Family Recipes and Memories: Blackberry Cooking
Nothing catches my eye quicker than a dish made with blackberries!
While browsing through my genealogy blogging group, I stopped on a fellow bloggers post from “Ancestors in Aprons“… I just love the name of her blog! It was a picture of a blackberry pie that caught my eye… and in my mind I could almost smell it! Yum… Yum! It was that post which sparked me to write about my grandmother and her “blackberry” pies and jam… and the stories I’ve been told through the years!
While I don’t have many memories of my grandmother, Ola (Askew) McKinley… I do remember the many jars of blackberry jam she kept on the kitchen counter waiting to come home with me! As a young girl, it was always the first thing I looked for when we arrived, and the last thing I grabbed when we left!
Granddaddy and Grandmama Ola McKinley
My grandparents lived on a Georgia farm, in the small town of Siloam… it was about a mile down a dirt road filled with oodles and oodles of blackberries growing along the roadside… just waiting to be picked! Mama often talked about all the blackberry pickings during the summer when Grandmama would send her with a couple of pails early in the morning; when blackberries ripened, it meant school was out for the summer. By suppertime, grandmamma would have one of those “to die for” pies cooling on the back of her cast iron stove. Mama laughs and remembers how good the food was that her mother cooked on that stove… and I just bet it sure was!
There were two picking spots on the farm, with the closest being just on the road near the house, while the other was back behind the barns, in what mama called, the “back forty.” “All the berries picked there, were the “best tasting” compared to today“, mama says. The blackberries that grow in the wild are smaller, compared to what we buy in the stores today… which are large; Mama swears they just don’t taste the same!
All I have to do is mention blackberries and mama remembers all the stories and never misses a beat in repeating them…
I heard “blackberry winter” mentioned on TV once and in asking her… “that’s what the old folks used to call a cold spell occurring around Easter, signaling that the first of blackberry season was coming… all I know is it’s something I’ve heard all my life.”
Anytime mama talks about blackberries… what always follows is… “I sure wish I could just have one more slice of my mama’s blackberry pie. It was the juiciest of any pies I’ve ever eaten… and the best!”
I’ve never tackled making a blackberry pie, as I’m not overly fond of making and rolling out pie crust… and often cave to using a bought one, except at Easter when making my pepper crust for Ham pie and a sweet crust for my Rice, Wheat and Ricotta pies. If you’ve never heard of them, I’m sure you’re turning your nose up about now… as I certainly did when I married into an Italian family, but now they truly are favorites of mine!
After mentioning to mama one evening that I had just made blackberry muffins… and before I even finished my sentence, she said… “I remember my mother’s blackberry pies like it was yesterday… they were so good, the best I’ve ever eaten… I still remember today how she made them! Mama would first make the crust, using her same biscuit dough, but adding lard, instead of butter. She always mixed the dough in her bread bowl… no recipes, no measurements, just adding this and that, until the feel of the dough felt right… she knew exactly when it was perfect. First, she baked the crust in her deep pie plate until it was light brown… and while it baked, she cooked the blackberries in a deep pan on the stove, only adding sugar to sweeten, which helped to release their juices. Mama then poured those steaming blackberries into the baked pie crust, and covered them with a lattice style crust… and always brushed with butter, which gave it the best taste ever! My mother made the best pies and what I wouldn’t give for a slice of one of her pies right now, especially the blackberry! I’ll never forget the taste!”
“Mama’s crust was crispy and the berries underneath were so juicy. I think it was her wood burning stove that gave it the best taste… she always knew exactly how many sticks of wood to cook everything… that always amazed me!”
Several years ago, mama went to a McKinley family reunion, and on the dessert table she spotted a blackberry pie, and… “when I saw that pie, I couldn’t wait to have a taste, I knew it must be good as I was told an elderly woman had brought it. After my first bite, it felt like I was eating my mama’s pie; it was so hard not taking that whole pie home! I later told the woman how I truly enjoyed her pie and it had so reminded me of my mother’s blackberry pie; it was made with the old-fashioned small blackberries just like I used to pick on our farm. On the ride home, all I could think about was that blackberry pie and wishing that I had brought the rest of it home!”
When my grandmother cooked, there were no recipes… mama told me that grandmama probably had never even heard of a recipe. She cooked only by the feel of her hands and taste… maybe even learning from her mother. Back then, no one had recipes, they learned from the women in the family!
“Mama would send me out in the morning with pails to pick blackberries. If I went alone, it was only to the bushes near our house. Usually there were lots there, but when she canned, we went to the back fields behind the barn, where it was marshy. The best ones were back there in the “back forty” as daddy often called it; they were the big juicy berries, the best for making jam. We never went back there alone without the dogs coming. Daddy always made us take either Frank or Fancy with us as they’d kill a snake in a minute. The dogs were smart and knew what to do when they went with us… always going into the bushes first, and once they came out, we knew it was ok to begin picking. The blackberry bushes were also back by the big rock I liked to climb on and just sit…. and think. Fancy was really good at sniffing out snakes and killing them, but one day she must have missed one, as she was bitten and later died.“
Mama’s blackberry bushes in Georgia
My love of blackberries began with grandmama’s jam… and as a child, I never even knew what jam from a jar tasted like. Every summer now when blackberries first appear in the stores, I get the itch to make my favorite… blackberry cobbler. I found this recipe many years ago in a Woman’s World magazine and I’ve used it ever since. I’ll share it below for you, as now blackberries can be found year round in the stores.
My Blackberry Cobbler
5 cups blackberries (Can use more)
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups flour
3 cups sugar (divided for topping)
1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter – melted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (divided for topping)
2 tablespoons cornstarch (for topping)
1 1/2 cups boiling water (for topping)
Spread berries in well buttered 2 1/2 quart dish, sprinkle with lemon juice and set aside. Sprinkle berries with lemon juice and pour in buttered dish.
Batter: In a medium bowl mix: 2 cups flour, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/3 cup butter, 2 tbsps. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1 cup milk. Mix well and spoon over the berries.
Topping: In a separate bowl, mix 1 1/2 cups sugar, 2 tbsp. cornstarch and 1/2 tsp. salt, and sprinkle over batter; slowly pour 1 1/2 cups boiling water over topping. Bake 350 oven – abt. 1 hour, until lightly brown and bubbly on top. This recipe can be halved or adjusted to the number of berries you have.
Another favorite Blackberry recipe of mine is….
Blackberry Muffins: Use any favorite muffin recipe and substitute blackberries. I never add blackberries to the batter, but instead, push several down into the batter after I’ve filled the muffin cups. Blackberry muffins are the best warm out of the oven with a small chip of butter on top!
And one of these days, I’m going to make one of grandmama’s juicy blackberry pies… sure hope grandmama guides my hand along!
If only I had a cast iron stove like Grandmama had!
Click for more … Family Recipes and Memories
© 2018, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved