Blackberry Pie and Grandma’s Secret Weapon

In Louisiana, one of the most requested desserts in our family is blackberry pie. My grandmother has made her blackberry sweet dough pie since before I can remember. Many people have tried to learn her recipe and many people have failed with blackberry stains on the ceiling to prove it. Grandma cooks with no recipes. She makes bread dough without measurements, cooks without timers, and bakes without a measuring cup in sight. So whenever asked to make a blackberry pie at my house, I thought it was my perfect opportunity to watch and replicate her delicious dessert.

There is one other component that I forgot to mention. My grandfather. Since his retirement, Grandma has taught him the culinary ropes of making roux, smothering okra, and slow roasting a rump. He has become the Goose to her Maverick, the butter to her bread, and they are adorable to watch in the kitchen together. So adorable in fact that before I knew it, I had missed the first steps in making the pie. Grandma had already begun simmering the berries in their own juices. Only the sweet voice of my grandmother apologizing that she used the entire box cornstarch broke the memorization of watching them working together, while beaming and completely covered in flour. I smiled politely and told her to use whatever she needed, and she happily returned to her pot of berries, beating them together as if they has cursed and needed a fine spanking. “See how thick it gets,” she said to me while lifting up her spoon with the black mash clinging to it for dear life, “That’s when you know it’s ready.”

The next step: piecrust. Grandma has one of the best kitchen tools around: reliable, strong and sturdy. It’s Grandpa. In making the crust, it’s his job to stir and stir and stir the mixture until Grandma declares its doneness. I watched both of them roll out the dough and agree on the thickness. Grandma put the dough into the pie plate like mosaic tiles. She looked up at me and said, “It’s not the kind of pie that matters if it looks perfect.” A true statement for any Southern dish.

Then came the lattice topping. This was the only time where Grandma and Grandpa had a difference of opinion. He was in charge of topping off the pies with dough, until Grandma walked in. “No, no, that’s too much dough on top,” she sweetly stated. He turned around and looked at me, “I like the crust the best. It’s my favorite part. But Grandma likes the filling.” And I watched him, calmly sipping his black coffee and smiling, while watching Grandma take off the extra pieces of latticework. All of a sudden, I noticed that the first pie (out of the two her “recipe” made) was already in the oven, baking happily with “too much” dough. Everyone was happy with the pies, the filling lovers and the crust eaters. I never got her recipe, but this is my own. And don’t worry if it doesn’t turn out looking perfect, that’s ok. It’s not the kind of pie that matters about that sort of thing.

Recipe: Makes 1 8-inch pie

Pie Crust:

2 ½ cups of flour

1 teaspoon of salt

3 tablespoons of sugar

1 stick of butter, cold and cut up into cubes

½ cup of shortening, cut up in small pieces

6-12 tablespoons of ice cold water

1 egg, slightly beaten

In a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and shortening to the flour mixture. Pulse to combine all of the ingredients until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Add the cold water, tablespoon-by-tablespoon, pulsing in between tablespoons. Seriously, pulse. You don’t want the heat from the motor interfering with the consistency of the dough. Add water until the dough comes together into a ball. The dough should not be sticky or crumbly. Divide dough in half and shape into 2 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.


3 cups of fresh blackberries

1 cup of sugar

1 lemon, juiced

3 tablespoons of cornstarch

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine all ingredients and stir together. Let the berries simmer for about 30 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

*Note: Depending on the sweetness of the berries, you may need to adjust the sugar. Berries picked at the peak of season tend to be sweeter than the more tart ones supplied year round.

To assemble:

Preheat oven to 350o

On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 disk of dough until 9 or so inches in diameter. Gently place the dough into the pie plate and crimp edges. Place in fridge for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, place the cooled filling into the prepared pie plate. Roll out the other disk of dough and cut into ½- inch to 1- inch strips. Place strips horizontally onto the pie. Start placing strips one-by-one vertically, lifting every other strip to create a lattice pattern. Brush 1 slightly beaten egg gently onto exposed piecrust. Place the pie onto a cookie sheet and place in oven for 25 minutes. Rotate and let bake for another 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.






Cane Sugar Blackberry Limeade

There is something utterly impossible to portray, so I will go without describing it. But I will go on to depict myself eating it, well gnawing on it to be exact.  I recall sitting under the haven of the porch on a summer’s day. I thought I would be duplicitous and enjoy my day early enough so the heat wouldn’t catch up with me. But alas, the sun beat me every time. As I sat there, confined to the porch, my paw-paw would bring my saving grace. There, in his strong yet gentle hands, were two tall sticks of sugar cane. He would take a knife out of his pocket and carefully strip away the rough stalk and what would be left were the sweet, white insides. And there I would sit, gnawing on the sugar cane and spitting out the fibrous insides when I was finished. I never said I was a lady back then, but I did feel like Lady Liberty waving my scepter to the heat as if I was the one having the last laugh. Ha Ha Ha Ha!

This recipe uses a copious amount of raw cane sugar, which I could put on just about anything. That sweet, intense saccharine flavor is the basis to this drink. You might have thought it would be the blackberry juice or the limes, but it’s the earthly undertones of this cane sugar that will leave you with a smile and an empty glass.


Recipe: Serves 8: Adapted from Martha Hall Foose’s Screen Doors and Sweet Tea

4 cups of fresh or thawed, frozen blackberries

6 limes, juiced (zest 1 of the limes before juicing it)

1 cup of water

1 cup of raw cane sugar

3 cups of ginger ale

In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar and the zest of 1 lime on medium-low heat. Make sure all of the sugar has dissolved while bringing the mixture to a boil. Take off heat and cool. Chill until needed.

In a medium sized bowl, mash the blackberries with a potato masher very carefully. Transfer the mash to a sieve. Reserve the blackberry juice and discard the blackberry seeds and pulp.

In a pitcher, combine the syrup, blackberry juice, lime juice and ginger ale. Serve in glasses filled with ice.


Blackberry Turnovers

Hot, steamy Louisiana summers became a little more bearable with a bowl filled to the brim with blackberries and honey. I remember lugging a pale, pink wash bucket that matched my pink flower bucket hat to the blackberry bush in my grannie and paw-paw’s backyard. The bucket was the chosen vessel for my little, plump, black treasures. My paw-paw taught me how to pick blackberries. I remember his strong, patient voice warning me of the thorns, how to gently pull the fruit off the bush without breaking the stems, and what the color of a perfectly ripe berry looked like. So I heeded his advice, slowly reached my little arm into the bush and lightly picked the fruit from the plant.  Within moments, my bucket was filled to the top. With all of the courage in my arms and my legs, I lifted the bucket to my neck and hugged the pink pale all the way to my grannie’s utility room. My treat would be a bowl of blackberries sweetened with either sugar or fresh, local honey. I loved the way the little berries burst in my mouth. You could always tell whenever I got into the buckets in the utility room, the confirmation lied on my teeth, stained dark purple from the berries. I could never hide the evidence because I could not help but smile after devouring the little gems.


Recipe: Makes 8

2 cups of blackberries

½ cup of sugar

¼ cup of water

1 teaspoon of pectin

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 package of puff pastry, thawed

1 egg, beaten

1 Tbs. raw sugar

Combine blackberries, sugar, water, and pectin in a saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat. Add vanilla. Boil for 20-30 minutes, skimming the foam on top. Cool for 30 minutes before using.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Unroll puff pastry on cookie sheet covered in parchment paper. Cut each sheet into 4 equal squares. Fill the center of the squares with 1 Tbs. of blackberry filling. Seal the edges with egg wash. Fold corners together to form a triangle. Crimp edges of the pastry with a fork and puncture the top of the pastry enough to allow the steam to escape. Brush the top with the egg wash and sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately with vanilla ice cream!