Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summertime Memories...with Berries

Happy Summer!

You need to understand that I would never say that. I grew up near Washington, D.C. where summer was a seemingly endless time of hot, hot days combined with energy sapping high humidity. Since we didn't have air conditioning, the kids would jump through the sprinklers on the lawn and find a shady place to stay still and read. Add to the heat and humidity the need to do daily chores, including extra home maintenance ones, and you may understand my lack of enthusiasm for summer. I know that it was a long time ago, but the disenchantment still lingers.

One of the things that I did enjoy was the fruits of summer, especially the berries. My Dad had grown up on farms and never gave up on the idea of having fresh fruit to can or make jam with. On Sundays, after church, we would get packed into the station wagon and head off to the country where we would meander down rural roads until we found a good collection of blackberry bushes and a place nearby to pull off the road. We never went on anyone's property, but when five or six children and my Dad finished picking berries, there were few left for the birds. There is nothing like picking ripe, sun warmed blackberries, sweet and full of juice, and eating them on the spot. There weren't farmers markets then, but there were U-Pick farms. We would also go pick strawberries, or peaches, or grapes in season. Back home these seasonal treats were baked into pies or boiled into jams or were packed in syrup and frozen.

Today I remembered those blackberry picking days while I picked some berries for my own pies. A few were eaten on the spot and were as good as I remember. Purple fingers are a sure sign of summer when the berries are ripe.

The first thing I made today was berry turnovers. I used ready made pie dough for some and refrigerated crescent dinner roll dough for others. Sometimes I make fresh pie dough, but today I wanted to get them done before noon because that's when we get our mail. The first two were ready just in time to give a couple to our mail lady. She is a super nice gal and the mailbox is near the berry bushes, so it seemed like a good idea.

The filling includes both cornstarch and some dry bread crumbs because these berries are really juicy. If you make these pies and your berries are not so juicy, you can skip the bread crumbs. The addition of some lemon zest wakes up the flavor. I used very little sugar because I wanted the berries to shine.

Then I made a mixed berry and peach crumb-topped pie. The filling included the rest of the blackberry filling for the hand pies, plus a very ripe and juicy white peach, sliced, a cup of fresh blueberries, and a few cherries that were sitting in a bowl on the counter. Sweetie says it's the best pie I've ever made, but that may have just been so he could have another piece. I think the crumb topping with it's freshly grated nutmeg and chopped pecans really complemented the fruit.

Hoping that you will make great summer memories for yourself and those you love. If it's not berry time yet, it surely will be sometime.

Blackberry Hand Pies
4 cups blackberries, preferably fresh. If using frozen, do not thaw.
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs, not seasoned
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
pie dough for 1 crust
1 package refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
1 egg, beaten in a cup with 1 teaspoon water

In a medium to large bowl, combine the cornstarch, bread crumbs, sugar and lemon zest. Add the rinsed and drained fresh berries or unthawed frozen berries. Mix gently to combine. (I use my clean hands).

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie dough into a circle about 10 inches in diameter. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough in four equal quarters. Place a scant 1/4 cup of the berry filling on each quarter, placing it near one edge, but with enough dough uncovered to allow for sealing, about 1/2 inch. Repeat with the other three dough pieces. Brush the edges of each quarter with the egg mixture. Fold the part of the dough with no berries on it over the part with the berries, pressing down around the edges to seal. This will form a sort of triangle. Using the tines of a fork, press along the two edges to further seal them. Repeat with the other three pieces of dough. Brush some egg wash on the top of each triangle and slash a small opening on top of each with a sharp knife.
Place on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven until the pastry is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the hand pies to a rack to cool. Can be eaten warm or cooled. Makes 4.

Unroll the crescent dinner roll dough and separate into triangles at the perforations. Using the same filling, place a small amount in the center of a triangle. Brush the edges with the egg wash and place a matching triangle of dough over the piece with the berries. Press all around the edges to seal. Using the tines of a fork, press along the edges to further seal them. Repeat with the other pieces of dough. Brush the tops of the hand pies with the egg wash and place on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven until the pastry is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the hand pies to a rack to cool. Can be eaten warm or cooled. Makes 4.

Mixed Berry and Peach Crumb Topped Pie
Pie dough for one crust
Pie weights
Blackberry filling from Hand Pies
1 ripe peach, peeled and sliced
1 cup blueberries, washed and drained
4 fresh cherries, pitted (optional)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold butter

Rollout pie dough to about 10" in diameter. Line a 8" or 9" pie plate with the dough, crimping the dough around the edges of the pan. Prick lightly all over. Line with parchment paper and weigh with pie weights (raw beans do fine and can be stored and re-used). Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Remove pie weights.

Prepare filling by adding the peaches, blueberries and cherries to the remaining filling from the Blackberry Hand Pies. If making from scratch, put 2 cups blackberries, 1 tablespoon corn starch, 1 tablespoons dry bread crumbs and 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest into a bowl and mix together gently. Then add the rest of the fruit.

Pour the filling into the cooled pie crust.

Prepare the topping by mixing the oats, flour, brown sugar, pecans and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, cut the cold butter into the mixture until incorporated and clumps form.

Pour the crumb mixture over the fruit filling. Spread it to cover the pie. Bake the pie in a preheated 350 degree F oven until the topping is lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Serves 6-8.


  1. I am freaking on berries of the summer too. Now you've given me a few more ideas. Thanks!

  2. Oh, Washington DC is so humid. We took a bunch of junior high students there. I would laugh because the girls would get up super early to make sure their hair and make up looked just so. Oh course after about 15 minutes it had all gone to crap. About the 3rd day they finally caught on a just wore their hair in ponytails.
    Your berry pies look delicious.

  3. I enjoy this recipe because we're about to hit the point in the season where we have berries in bloom and I have more than I know what to do with.

  4. Wow - these look good! Had a marvy trip to Chicago on all levels!

  5. These look delicious! I can't wait for all of our 'free' food to come out. We have masses of blackberry bushes growing in the garden and in hedgerow in the fields nearby.

    Also just wanted to say I love the bit in your profile 'a lot of deferred maintenance on the house.' We have a lot of that too but it's our first (proper) home and we've only been here for 18 months so plenty of time.

  6. Meeta, The berries really are freaking good this year, at least around here. Had more this morning for breakfast with plain yogurt.

    Peabody, You have my sympathy...Washington D.C. is bad enough, but with a bunch of junior high kids it must have been aweful. I spent years wishing that I looked good in a ponytail, but no.

    Kelly, berries are coming! Once the regualar ones come in I have a whole chicken house cover in them.

    Anna, thanks! Glad the trip was ll you expected :)

    Amanda, Yeah for wild berries!
    As far as the house, congratulations! There is nothing like putting time into your own home to make it more yours...even the dull maintenance stuff.