Island Flavor

"Tacked to the shelves in my kitchen is a curled, faded snapshot of my grandmother's kitchen. Sunlight streams softly through the calico curtains warming the dull Formica counter. Open cupboards are stacked with colorful dishes, and canisters of all shapes and sizes line the countertop. Perched beside the canisters, near the white enameled sink, sits a blond, curly-haired toddler dressed in a frilly apron and patent leather shoes. She bends over a large mixing bowl, her tongue curled in anticipation as she cracks an egg into the mixing bowl. I was the little baker. Grandma was no doubt just out of the picture, since this kitchen was her domain. My memory fills out the photograph with the sweet aroma of baking cookies and wild blackberry pie. Every summer my younger sister and I visited our grandparents house in Bremerton. Each August we went berry picking. We didn't hunt for just any kind of berry however. Grandma had a yearning for the small seedless blackberries that grow on low, scrubby vines. Wild blackberries, she called them. Grandpa prepared our gathering equipment, which consisted of old tin cans with wire handles attached. We always had a large bucket to empty the full cans into. We wore baggy old men's shirts that were splotched with purple by day's end. Filling our cans was the goal. We wanted to keep up with Grandma, who was the fastest berry picker around. Her soft nimble fingers milked the berries right off the vine. The berry patches were always out in the woods. In the hot sun, the sweet smell of juicy blackberries mingled with the muskiness of moss and warm pine. We'd work diligently for several hours, until we had enough berries for pies and jam and some for freezing. Grandpa was always waiting to help carry the goods inside, and the kitchen counters were soon covered with berries. Slowly, Grandma would put the blackberries away, but she always left out enough for a pie. She started the pie just before dinner, so it would still be warm for eating. I would peer over the tabletop while Grandma rolled her thin butter crust. She let me stir the sugar and flour into the berries. The blackberries were spooned into the lined pie tin and dotted with lots of butter. Then the top crust, with its flower-patterned steam vents was set gingerly on top. The edges were crimped and the bulging pie was lifted carefully into the hot oven. After dinner, we'd watch Lawrence Welk. By the time he said good night the blackberry pie was just the right temperature, its juices thick, but still flowing. The crust was warm and tender. Grandma sliced big pieces into bowls that held the juice. Grandpa spooned vanilla ice cream over the top; then we headed for the back porch. The night air was cool, so we'd be bundled in scratchy wool blankets. Grandpa would hold my littler sister on his lap and Grandma would hold me. We'd dig our spoons down through the slithering ice cream, through the buttery crust into the tart warm berries. When the pie was finished, we would lean our heads back into the soft folds of our grandparents' arms and watch for shooting stars until we fell asleep. Wild blackberry pie Makes one 9-inch pie. The tiny Western wild trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus), is the only blackberry native to the Pacific Northwest. It is often found growing on Whidbey Island in areas where the ground has been cleared previously. The berries possess a unique tartness and sweet, juicy flavor unsurpassed by other varieties. Like my grandmother, culinary expert James Beard considered them the most prized treasure of all the wild berries. Pastry: 3 cups pastry flour, or 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour and 1 cup cake flour 1 tablespoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces Approximately 1/2 cup ice water, more if necessary Filling: 4 cups wild blackberries 3/4 cup sugar 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces 1 tablespoon sugar To make the pastry, blend the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. (Grandma always mixed them with a special silver spoon.) Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter until the butter is reduced to pea-size bits. Form a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the ice water gradually, until the dough can be gathered into a ball. Knead the dough lightly on a floured surface. Form into two 1/2-inch thick patties (one slightly larger than the other). Cover with plastic and let rest about 10 minutes, to relax the gluten in the flour. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the blackberries, sugar, flour and cinnamon. Roll out the larger piece of pastry so that the edges extend 1-inch over the edges of the pie tin. Line the pie tin with the pastry by gently rolling the pastry around the rolling pin and lifting it into the tin. Spoon the berries into the pie tin and dot with the butter. Roll out the remaining pastry to cover the top of the pie, leaving 1-inch crust overhanging the edge of the tin. Using a sharp knife, cut decorative steam vents in the crust. Set the crust on top of the pie; trim the edges of the pastry lightly with scissors to even edges. Fold the edges of the top crust underneath the bottom crust, then crimp the edges together with your fingers or a fork. Brush the top crust lightly with cold water or milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake the pie for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 375 degrees F. and continue baking until the crust is golden brown and the pie emits a delicious fragrance, about 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.---------------------Lori McKean-Casad is a Northwest chef with 15 years of hands-on experience and a particular love for Northwest foods. She is the author or co-author of three cookbooks, Pacific Northwest Flavors, The Northwest Best Places Cookbook, and John Sarich at Chateau Ste. Michelle. She has also contributed food articles to a number of newspapers and food magazines, including Bon Appetit and Better Homes & Gardens. She lives in Cornet Bay on Whidbey Island. If you have questions, comments, or favorite recipes to share, contact her at the Whidbey News Times, 675-6611; fax 675-2732; or e-mail "

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