13 Aug Summer Berries

Jill and I took the dogs berry picking. The dogs don’t pick berries, but they like to be with. Thanks to a wet, cool summer in Baltimore, the black berries and raspberries have done well. Every year we go to the same place, ten miles north of the city—a county park so remote, it’s not even marked. If you don’t know which dirt road to turn down, off a winding two-lane blacktop, you’ll never find it. We seldom see others at this park. Its paths run adjacent to corn fields, then wend into hilly woods and settle down to the Jones Falls river, which isn’t much of a river this far north.

Inevitably the dogs get muddy. Frieda is a fan of wallowing. She’s also fearless about water and will jump into any pond, puddle or pool. We forgot to bring buckets for the berries – you really need plastic buckets – so we used plastic sandwich bags instead. Plastic bags always leak. Towering blackberry and raspberry bushes grow in the sunny weedy margins of the corn fields. Best way to pick berries is to wear hiking books and trample the bushes as you go. Mind you, they can take. They are weeds in the best sense—hardy, rampant, irrepressible. To stand among berry bushes in the fly-droning midday heat, surrounded by more fruit than a day’s picking will allow, fingers stained with sweet berry juice, an atheist might contemplate the existence a God.

No matter how hot the summer, it’s never too hot for a berry pie.  A few tips on pie-making: corn starch is the key to keeping the filling solid. Heat your berry mixture in a pot, with a quarter cup of apple juice, then sift in corn starch until the goop stiffens (keep stirring). Add a few tablespoons of maple syrup and a few of lemon juice, some lemon zest (peel), a dash of cinnamon, and — if you’re feeling evil — brown sugar.  Pre-bake the bottom crust for about ten minutes (keeps it firm).  Then assemble your pie. Bake at 350 until the top crust is browning.  Always put foil below the pan because berry pies bubble over.

We made several pies, surprised by the bounty we gathered. Every year, after a successful berry run, Jill and I promise ourselves that we’ll return for a second picking—all that goodness for the taking and free. Come autumn and the first frost, we’ll recall the sun-burned, thorny fun of berry picking and shake our heads in dismay because, as usual, we never did get back and now it’s too late and late summer is a long way off.