One of the nice things about being a food writer is that people give me food, almost, I think, as a challenge. “See what you can make out of this load of stuff!” my benefactors seem to be saying. In the past few years I’ve received dry pasta, flour, zucchini (but then, who hasn’t been the victim of a random zucchini donation?), tomatoes, squash, eggs, a huge box of snack-size applesauce cups, rhubarb, peaches, plums, pears and, most recently, 8 quarts of blackberries picked from my dad’s property in Battle Ground.
This is an annual occurrence — the Bequeathing of the Berries — but this year I wanted to do something more than make my usual freezer jam. I wanted to make pie. Two pies, actually: One for now, and one to freeze for Thanksgiving.
Blackberries are more of a summer fruit, but I figured that if I mixed in a few ripe pears with the blackberries, I would be right on the money vis-à-vis classic fall flavors. Throw in some ginger and cinnamon and it’s a regular Fallapalooza. (Even with our too-hot October and fires and smoke and briefly being included in the Nakia Creek Fire evacuation zone, I’m trying to embrace the autumnal spirit.)
The pie is a happy marriage of a traditional pastry-bottom pie and a crisp with buttery oats-and-sugar topping. The fresh fruit is in the middle. As the pie cooks, the sugary topping full of autumn spices is going to sink right into the fruit, forming its own layer. It’s a pie crisp or a crisp pie. It could be a pisp or maybe a crie but neither one of those things sound very appetizing, so let’s just call it a wonderful fall dessert.
First, you need two deep-dish pie crusts from the store. Make your own if it makes you happy but what makes me happy is not making pie crust. Thaw them if they’re frozen and set them aside.
Put 5 heaping cups of fresh blackberries or thawed frozen blackberries in a big bowl. Peel and dice three ripe Bartlett pears. They should be soft but not squishy. Add the pears to the blackberries along with ½ cup sugar. You might not think that’s enough sugar but there will be a lot of sugar in the topping. You want a little of the berries’ natural tartness to come through. If you’re still not persuaded, though, add ²/3 cup sugar.
Next, add ¼ teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons ginger paste (available in the produce section of most grocery stores). You can absolutely use powdered ginger, but maybe stick to one generous teaspoon. Mix everything together with 1/4 cup flour, maybe ¹/3 cup if you’re seeing a lot of liquid in the bowl. The flour is crucial for thickening the fruit juices, otherwise you’ll have blackberry-pear soup-goop instead of pie. It will still be edible — I mean, I would certainly eat it — but you may be drinking it instead of using a fork.
Put the berry-pear mixture aside and set the oven to 375 degrees. In another bowl, combine 1 cup of rolled oats, 1 generous cup packed brown sugar, ½ cup granulated sugar and ½ cup flour. Add ¼ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ginger, ¼ teaspoon cloves and a dash or two of nutmeg. Smells like fall, doesn’t it? (If you’re making this pie during the summer, you might try omitting the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg in favor of 2 teaspoons lemon zest.) Cut up a stick of cold butter and work it into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or your fingers. It should be well-combined when you’re done with it.
Now pour half of the blackberries and pears into each pie shell. The fruit should fill each pie crust up almost completely, though the fluting should still be visible. Next, divide the topping in half and sprinkle half over each pie, going all the way to the edge and carefully covering all the visible pie filling. This is important because the topping will be absorbed into the pie as it cooks, soaking up all those extra juices that would otherwise bubble out during baking.
Just to be safe, you can put the aluminum-bottom pies into pie dishes for baking or set them on top of a cookie tray. These should catch any rebellious drips so that your oven doesn’t start blowing out acrid plumes of burnt berry smoke halfway through baking. Bake for 45 minutes. The topping will merge with the berry filling during baking, but the very top layer will be crispy and golden. Don’t worry if there’s berry juice around the edges; that never hurt anyone, I promise.
As tempting as it might be, this pie shouldn’t be eaten warm because it will still be runny. Allow it to cool completely or, better yet, allow it to set overnight. (Full confession: I couldn’t wait and cut a slice within a few hours. Yes, it was runny.) It’s going to be a juicy pie no matter what you do but that’s part of its charm. To freeze one of the pies, simply wrap it in tin foil and put it in your freezer until Thanksgiving. Heat the pie from frozen at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes or thaw the pie and bake it at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Allow pie to set for an hour or two before eating. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and be thankful for the rain. It’s been a long time coming.