Behold the bounty of berries

How to turn summer’s jewels into the best pie you can bake

Staff writerSeptember 4, 2013 

As summer evaporates and is replaced by a drippy fall, I start concocting ways to preserve the last gems of summer’s berry bounty. Jam and preserves are an obvious choice, or flash freezing berries is an excellent way to get a taste of summer in November. But when I pick all the late summer blackberries I can get my hands on, my preferred method is turning those berries into pie.

In last Friday’s entertainment section, I reviewed six stops for delicious pies on a meandering trail that took me from Bonney Lake to Ashford.

When I spoke with the pie bakers, they generously shared advice for baking pie at home. Here are tips from some of the region’s best bakers:

THE BAKER: CONNIE SWARTHOUT, C.J.’S DELI, BONNEY LAKE Connie Swarthout, who opened C.J.’s Deli in Bonney Lake in 1997, is the type of baker who collects all kinds of pie tips from friends and family. One of her favorites was a tip from her dad that came with a jar of bear fat from Alaska. She tried it, but it didn’t convince her to stop using shortening in her crusts. She prefers shortening for its flaky texture and ease of use.

Favorite tips

Vinegar: Use ice cold water to make the pie dough (that’s a given for most pie bakers), but she suggests also adding a little white vinegar to your crust. It’s not for tang, it’s for a tender texture.

Blind bake: When blind baking, you don’t need to use fancy pie weights. Instead, just cover the pie crust with a heavy sheet of aluminum foil. “Take it off when it’s halfway cooked. I usually do it for 15 minutes and then I look and see. It’s got to be cooked enough so that the pie dough doesn’t shrink (when you remove the foil). Then I bake it 5-6 minutes more.”

If you’re not familiar with the term blind bake, it means to fully or partially bake a pie crust without the filling inside when recipes call for unbaked pie fillings (like a fresh raspberry pie).

Don’t bother with the fancy stuff: Swarthout said that a fancy pastry cutter from a gourmet shop or pie weights that cost $30 are not necessary for making pie. The best tools for pie are the basics — your hands, a sturdy bowl or two and pie tins.

NOTE: Swarthout will demonstrate pie baking at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup from 1-3 p.m. Sept. 8 and 22 in the Pavilion building upstairs in the Home Arts area. See accompanying story about other cooking demonstrations at the fair.

THE BAKER: LOLA BURSLIE, BERRYLAND CAFE, SUMNER

It was Sumner’s quest to become the rhubarb capital of the world that turned Lola Burslie into a pie baker. The city encouraged every restaurant in town to specialize in rhubarb desserts. Burslie concocted a long list of rhubarb pies, combining the tart pie ingredient with Northwest berries and stone fruits. Her right-hand-man in the kitchen when it comes to baking pies is her son Tim Hansen.

Favorite tips

Use the best of the season: If possible, use what’s in season. Burslie has developed a friendship with the owners of Lattin’s Country Cider Mill near Olympia. When the Lattins travel to Eastern Washington for cider supplies, they pick up peaches for Burslie to use in her pies.

Deepen the flavor: Consider combining fruits to add depth and complexity to the flavor of a pie. Burslie layers cherries, pineapple and rhubarb in her CPR pie. She also likes to pair rhubarb with berries — raspberries, blackberries and marionberries, for example.

Pie dough texture: Good pie dough should be the exact texture of Play-Doh after it’s been played with for a bit. Get to know that texture and you’ll make a better pie dough.

Don’t overwork your dough: Overworked pie dough means a tough pie crust. Mix ingredients just until moistened.

Add decorative flair: Burslie’s signature at her cafe is to use a cookie cutter to do cutouts in the shape of hearts or letters on her pies.

THE BAKER: JENNY HERRINGTON, DON’S DRIVE-IN, PUYALLUP

Jenny Herrington has worked at Don’s Drive In since she was about 16, but she didn’t make the pie until after the longtime pie baker, Ducky, retired. Jenny’s pies carry Ducky’s signature ’50s sensibility — simple ingredients with little add-ins beyond sugar.

Favorite tip

Feel the heat: Herrington’s favorite tip isn’t even about pie, it’s about your equipment. Do you know the exact temperature at which your oven bakes? One way to know is to buy an inexpensive oven-safe thermometer that you leave hanging in your oven while it’s preheating.

THE BAKER: STEPHANIE CRAWFORD, LITTLE PARK RESTAURANT, SPANAWAY

Stephanie Crawford makes at least 30 blackberry pies a week at Little Park Restaurant, which has served pie since it opened in 1958. Before working at Little Park, she didn’t even know how to bake a pie, but her job duties have turned her into a pie fan.

Favorite tip

Butter is good: When making a berry pie, put about a teaspoon of butter on top of the berries. It helps the crust keep its form.

Pack in the berries: “Always pack the berries above the rim,” Crawford said. “They disintegrate, or break down, as they cook and the pie looks really thin.” She builds her pie with up to 2 inches of berries above the rim. Then, she tops the berries with the butter and adds her second pie crust.

Egg wash: Crawford always uses an egg wash because it makes for a glossier crust. (Try one beaten egg mixed with a few tablespoons of water or cream.)

THE BAKER: CAROLINE STRUCK, COPPER CREEK INN RESTAURANT, ASHFORD

Jennie Zuelich was the original pie baker at the Copper Creek Inn Restaurant in Ashford. Over the course of 35 years, she made more than 100,000 pies for the Inn before retiring in 1987. Although the Copper Creek Inn recipe is modernized today with shortening standing in for lard or bear fat, the pies still are made in one flavor, Zuelich’s favorite: blackberry.

Caroline Struck now is one of the pie bakers at Copper Creek Inn, a duty she shares with another cook.

Favorite tip

Freeze and fill: Use the freezer. After you assemble the pie, freeze it for later baking, or freeze it until it’s as frozen as you can get it. Then bake it. Also, “use more filling than you think you need.”

APPLE AND BLACKBERRY PIE

For the crust:

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

Pinch salt

1/2 stick butter, cold

1/4 cup shortening or lard, cold

2-3 tablespoons ice cold water, to mix

For the filling:

1/4 stick butter

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2 cups superfine sugar

1 1/2 pounds fresh blackberries

1 1/2 pounds dessert apples, peeled, cored and sliced

For the crust: Sift flour and salt into a bowl. Cut the butter and shortening (or lard) into small cubes and add to flour. Use your fingertips to rub the butter and shortening into the flour until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Add water gradually, stirring it in with a knife. When the dough just sticks together, knead it lightly until it forms a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes in the refrigerator. It can be left in the refrigerator for up to two days. Alternatively, it can be frozen until ready to use.

For the pie filling: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat the butter in a large saucepan, and add the cinnamon, 1 1/3 cups of the sugar (reserving the remainder), and half the blackberries and simmer for about 10 minutes until the fruit is soft. Mash with a potato masher to make a thickish sauce.

Mix the apples and remaining blackberries together and place them in a 6-cup (1.5 liter) deep pie dish and pour over the blackberry sauce. Place a pie funnel in the center of the filling (optional).

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch in thickness and make sure the crust is rolled 1 inch larger than the pie dish. Cut off a small strip of the dough and press this on to the edge of the dish. Place the pastry lid on top and press down to seal. Trim away any excess pastry, brush the top with milk to glaze and sprinkle with the remaining superfine sugar.

Bake 30 minutes until the crust is golden and the filling bubbling. Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

18401 Veterans Memorial Drive E., Bonney Lake; 253-826-0672, cjsdelibonneylake.com 1101 Main St., Sumner, 253-863-4567, berrylandcafe.com 925 Meridian Ave. E., Puyallup, 253-845-1790, donsdrivein.net Note: Don’s Drive-In will close Sept. 6-22 for the Washington State Fair in Puyallup. 17106 Pacific Ave. S., Tacoma; 253-531-1343 35707 State Route 706 E., Ashford; 360-569-2326, coppercreekinn.com Source: Adapted from the book “Pie,” by Angela Boggiano, republished in 2013 by Octopus Publishing Group.

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