Sweet, sweet childhood memories. These are the things we often cling to when the future is uncertain and frightening. Innocence. Simplicity. Uncomplicated times. I think of such moments and my mind conjures an image of the blackberry pie that went hand in hand with them.
I remember the thrill as a child of going blackberry picking in the gully with my dad, ice-cream container in hand. What seemed like hours later we would struggle back up the hill, the back of our necks slightly sunburnt, my pudgy little hands stained purple and my violaceous lips giving away the fact that some of the berries didn’t make it into the container. Triumphant, I would present my mother with the literal fruits of our labour.
I remember the resultant pie being incredibly simple. Just the fruit in a white oval pie dish, topped with sweet pastry and dusted with granular sugar. Most of all though, I remember the violence of the juice escaping through the steam-hole, marking the pastry with rivers of magenta and spits and spots as though a volcano had erupted within.
Wild blackberries are not quite so romantic in my middle age. In the 1970s I neither knew nor cared that they were a noxious weed that would cause me so much grief as an adult. The countless hours of hacking and clearing, season after season, trying to break the plant’s spirit so it would no longer re-emerge, made me too angry to really enjoy any fruit that came from the wild bushes. But while I try to destroy the wild blackberries, I have planted four blackberry canes – a thornless cultivar named “Waldo” – in my garden. Waldo fruits at a similar time to the wild vines, and in abundance. From those four plants, put in about 20 months ago, we this year picked 15 kilograms of berries a week for at least six weeks.
Like many others of the Rubus family, Waldo fruits on last year’s canes. My frustration with its wild cousin has been replaced by a methodical calm when I deal with Waldo. I patiently wind all of this year’s growth away from the fruiting canes of last year, tenderly tucking and pinning and making it neat and accessible in readiness for the 2021 avalanche of fruit.
To make the pie I allow about 100 grams of fruit per person. The dish is brushed with melted butter and coated in raw sugar. The fruit is then added and the pastry fixed to the pie dish, just as my mother did. Making a pie this way does leave you with quite a lot of liquid, but that’s how I like it. I break the crust and share it around, then spoon out the fruit and ladle the extra juice over the pastry. Top this deliciousness with whipped cream and/or ice-cream and custard. If you prefer a less soupy pie, mix the blackberries with stewed apples (two parts to one) to absorb the excess liquid.
Sweet shortcrust pastry
– 400g plain flour
– 200g cold unsalted butter, chopped
– 100g castor sugar
– pinch salt
– 1 egg yolk
– 50g unsalted butter, melted
– ¼ cup raw sugar
– 100g blackberries per person
– 1 egg
Place the flour, butter, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Blend on slow until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and 50 millilitres of water and mix until the pastry comes together in a ball.
Remove from the bowl, flatten into a disc and wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour. (Alternatively the pastry can be made in a food processor or on the bench by hand.)
Remove the pastry from the fridge, unwrap and give it a little knead on a floured surface for about 10 seconds. Roll out the pastry to a thickness of three millimetres. Cut a size that is about one centimetre wider than the pie dish.
Preheat your oven to 200ºC.
Brush your selected pie dish with butter and coat with some of the raw sugar. Pour in the blackberries.
Beat the egg with a little salt to make an egg wash.
Stretch the pastry over the dish and push the edges into the side of the dish. Brush with the egg wash, sprinkle with raw sugar and make a little hole in the centre of the pastry.
Place the pie dish in the centre of the oven and bake until golden brown (15-30 minutes, depending on the size). Let the pie cool for a few minutes before serving with cream, ice-cream or custard.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 28, 2020 as "Life of pie".
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