Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Pie Takes you Back in Time

“You look at a cake almost like a piece of architecture, but pies give you an emotional response. If you put a pie on a table, it always seem to take you back to a time in your life. Peach pie puts you squarely in summer, pumpkin at Thanksgiving. I think that is where the emotional response comes from.”- Ken Haedrich author of "Pie" 

Oh, pies do take me places in my mind. My first pie memories transport me back to the ubiquitous Mrs.Smith's frozen Dutch Apple pies my Mom would pull from the freezer, bake as directed and then proclaim them "homemade." (They weren't bad, but then, I didn't know any better.)

Thoughts of real homemade pie and childhood are tightly intertwined with fond memories of my grandma, Lillian. When I was little, I would gaze in wonder as she made her own pie crust from scratch. It seemed like magic to me.  Sometimes it still does.

In the summer months, she and I collected wild gooseberries to make my grandpa's favorite fruit pie. (It's not bad with the addition of several pounds of sugar.)

In recent pie memory, I can still vividly recall my first piece of bumbleberry pie enjoyed at the Purple Pie Place in Custer, SD. The first thing I did following vacation was attempt to recreate this five-fruited marvel. It is now my go-to pie recipe, especially because the uninitiated always inquire, "What's a bumbleberry?"

But alas, there's always been a pie hole in my heart. My fondest pie desire is to make a black raspberry (aka black cap) pie, but I have never had easy, ongoing access to collect the requisite four to five cups of fruit necessary to make one.

For you see, here in Wisconsin, black raspberries can't be purchased at the local grocery store; they have to be picked in the wild, along the rural highways and byways. But if you're lucky (me), you have a sweet sister-in-law who lives in a State Forest which is just rife with black raspberries! And, then she (foolishly) allows you to take home a clump and plant them in your yard...not remembering they are highly invasive.

Here's my backyard of black raspberry bushes:

This morning I harvested nearly two cups of black raspberries and I can envision a pie in my future soon.

What's the big deal about making this pie? I mean, really. The berries are not the sweetest ambrosia on the palate. Frankly, they're a bit tart even when ripe, the small seeds tend to stick in one's teeth, and they're a pain in the everywhere to pick.

Here's the thing. It's the history of the black raspberry to me. The berries, from the picking to the eating, are all wrapped up in the nostalgia of time gone by. They conjure memories of my free-range, carefree and countrified childhood existence. On black raspberry picking days, my younger brother and I spent time together without arguing, simply because we were united in a common mission.

Early in the steamy July mornings, my brother and I would climb onto our bikes to search out the elusive berry bushes along the roadside. We pedaled and pedaled, the distance and the heat didn't seem to matter. Our harvesting equipment consisted simply of lidded containers; one for him, one for me. There was no sharing.

Once we found the bushes, getting to the bounty was hard. Picture tall grass, mosquitoes, and grabbing; prickly bushes, but of course, it was well worth the effort. The first berries eaten were the sweetest, ripest, and blackest.Our second choices were the purplish-black, nearly-ripe berries. Last on the preference list were the just purple, extremely tart, difficult-to-pull-off "black" caps. Hey, we were kids; they all tasted delicious.

At the beginning of the season we'd usually just fill our bellies with eating the berries straight from the bushes. After several collection days had passed, more and more berries made it into our containers.

My brother and I often came home with the battle scars of mosquito bites, bloody scrapes, and berry-juice stains on our faces and our hands. Immediately, we'd both grab cereal bowls, spoons, the sugar dish, and a gallon of milk and head directly to our kitchen table. No words had to be spoken; it was a well-oiled and time-honored tradition.

Berries were poured,  (No, we didn't wash them. We were kids.) milk was sloshed on top, sugar was scooped (yes, they were often a bit tart), and then we'd slurp up our fruity bounty. When the berries were gone, all that remained was a lovely lavender, sugary milk concoction that begged to be drunk straight from the bowl. And, we did. And, I remember it tasted like the sweet depths of childhood summers.

Yes, pie takes you places...and I can't wait to go back there.

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