It's traditional for B. to have homemade blackberry pie for his birthday, which arrives at the peak of the wild blackberry season here in Northern California. As a young couple we did our first picking up near the Eel River when we were just making hopeful forays northward, thinking about where to move to when our college days were done.
Later we had the bushes growing like weeds in our back yard and neighborhood, and the children could bring in plenty, so much that there were many more berries than I could bake into pies. I developed a recipe for blackberry syrup to process in jars so that year by year we had it to pour on pancakes.
Twenty years ago we moved to a less rural part of the county and now have to make more of an effort to collect our pie ingredients. In the last few years it has twice happened that one or two of the children made heroic efforts against busy schedules and blazing heat to collect buckets full enough for me to bake the customary pie or two.
One year I carted one of these pies up the mountain for our Yosemite family camp experience, and forgot the birthday candle. Someone carved a sort of long matchstick from a twig to use instead, but it was pretty much a failure.
At left is the time I baked a blackberry pie at the high mountain cabin where I like to go for solitary retreats or for family gatherings where cooking is appreciated.
This busy-busy summer, there was hardly time for a spark of thought about going berry-picking, so I picked up two bags of mixed frozen berries at Costco with plans to make four pies for the big party that the children were giving B.
I'd used this berry mix once before, to make my usual blackberry pie recipe, the result being a kind of gummy candy wrapped in pastry. As the berries are individually quick-frozen, I speculated that they lose a lot of moisture in the process and must need less thickening than what I'd automatically put in the bowl.
So this time around, I used less than half the amount of tapioca granules called for in the original Joy of Cooking recipe. A little runny would be better than globby. And the pies were a little runny, so if I do it again I'll use exactly half the thickening.
Getting the edge of the crust to look nice is not the easiest part of pie-making. It took me quite a few failed attempts in my youth before someone showed me to hold the top and bottom layers of crust together as one, while you fold them under, against the edge of the plate. Now you are all ready to flute the edge, if you want. My pinching technique is shown at right in a photo I had B. snap for me. Click on it if you want to see it large.
It seems hard to bake a berry pie without the blue showing through the top crust. Two of the pies I put an egg wash on, and two not. Two had a little less butter in the crust. But they all came out looking about the same.
What was really different was baking them in a convection oven. With the first two pies, I experimented and used the foil collar on one and not on the other, and they baked equally, beautifully brown. So I may not use foil collars ever again!
The flavor was excellent, a composite of blackberries (Marionberries, to be precise), blueberries, and raspberries, with butter seeping in from the crust, and a bit of cinnamon with the fruit. I go lightly on the sugar so that the sweetness doesn't overwhelm the taste buds.
It was a wonderful party the children had for their beloved father, and he was very pleased not to have to go without his pie.