Before summer’s fruits fade, Hannah Hayes goes picking and discovers that gathering a bounty of berries is no agrarian cakewalk.
Photography by Hannah Hayes
If you’ve never picked the four to five cups of berries necessary to bake a pie, let me tell you, it’s no agrarian cakewalk.
In the summer-time berry patch, sizable pit stains quickly dampen hopes for romantic, block-print scenes a la Blueberries for Sal. But in a world where a robot living inside your cell phone can direct you to the nearest Mexican-sushi-fusion restaurant, it’s important from time to time to feel the visceral satisfaction of doing things the hard way.
There are few ways to pursue that satisfaction more than the American pastime of U-Picking, where farmers let you labor over their fruits for a discounted price per pound and the promise of old-fashioned, wholesome fun for all ages.
Before heading out to the fields, I called my mother, a university-certified Master Gardener, for some berry picking pro tips.
“Make sure you wear your cowboy boots in case you run into a snake,” she said (my mother expends more time and energy than most people to avoid snakes). “Bring gloves. Why are you doing this again?”
For the sake of pie and food journalism, I tell her, but that’s beside the point.
You too should heed my mama’s words and wear closed-toe shoes if you go U-Picking. This isn’t like a run to Publix or a trip to Tybee Island; this is honest-to-goodness agriculture with moderately uneven terrain. Gloves are also necessary to protect your fingers against thorns and brambles.
Although you can start U-Picking at 9 a.m. in most locations (except on Sundays), the mid-summer sun and its cruel mistress, humidity, couldn’t care less. Wear small amounts of breathable fabrics and slather on the SPF 30. You will get hot; you will perspire, but remember this: no dollop of whipped cream will match the taste of your own physical effort and sweat.
Hunting for Blackberries
Underneath the towering thickets of bamboo at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens is the perfect place to channel your inner hunter-gatherer and detach yourself from said cell phone robot.
Next to a grove of banana trees, there is row after row of blackberries bursting with more deep purple goodness than Prince circa 1984, and at $3 a pound, you’d have to be a few sandwiches short of a picnic to not pick more than a bucketful.
But what in tarnation will I do with all these blackberries, you ask?
Make lots of jam would be the most obvious answer. But from pork medallions to mojitos, blackberries fit into a number of dishes and drinks more easily than you would think.
You don’t have to decide now, just spread the berries in a single layer across a baking sheet, freeze for 30 minutes and place them in freezer bags to use at a later date.
I suggest saving a few fresh ones for this Buttermilk Blackberry Pie based off of a Purple Raspberry Lemon Chess recipe I developed and later unsuccessfully attempted to enter in a state fair.
2 Canebrake Road
Savannah, GA 31419
U-Pick Buttermilk Blackberry Pie
For the crust:
If you haven’t used Savannah’s own Cheryl and Griff Day’s Cornmeal Pie Crust from their gorgeous cookbook, this pie provides no better excuse.
For the filling:
Despite its relative obscurity, there are a lot of buttermilk pie recipes floating around. If you happen to have a favorite recipe, it won’t hurt to use it. If you don’t, my favorite is the Hominy Grill’s version that has a hint of nutmeg magic.
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs, separated
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup room-temperature buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl of a stand mixer set to medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg yolks one at a time and mix well. Add the flour, lemon juice, nutmeg and salt and mix until well combined. Switch the speed to low then slowly add buttermilk. Mix the ingredients well then set aside.
In a separate bowl, whip egg whites until they form soft peaks. Pour a small amount of buttermilk mixture into the whites. Fold the whites gently. Take egg white mixture and gingerly fold it into the remaining buttermilk mixture until just combined.
Prick bottom of your prepared pie crust, and pour the custard into the pie shell. Carefully place blackberries on the top of the custard. Use as many or as few as you’d like.
Place foil around the edge of pie to prevent burnt edges and bake the pie for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake the pie for another 20 to 25 minutes. The custard will be golden brown and the center will jiggle slightly.
Cool on a rack and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
It was a little more difficult to get down to pickin’ at Ottawa Farms. Initially, I was too distracted by the shelves of Mayhaw, Moonshine and Corncob jelly peppered among crates of perfect peaches and emerald-striped watermelons in the general store. And then there’s the goat skywalk, a green metal structure that combines feats of engineering with livestock – making the half-hour drive from Savannah completely worth the trip.
But beyond the suspended goats, the red barn and the white rocking chairs, there are blueberries dangling from terraced bushes. Since blueberries are smaller, it may take longer to fill your bucket, but that extra time will just give you more of an excuse to sit on the general store porch with a Styrofoam cup of homemade strawberry ice cream.
While you can freeze blueberries in the same way, nothing compares to the taste of a pie made with blueberries picked the same day. Here is a citrusy riff on the classic blueberry pie my mama makes. I still maintain that if a slice were placed at every desk during the next United Nations meeting, world peace would be attainable.
702 Bloomingdale Road
Bloomingdale, GA 31302
U-Pick Blueberry Pie
For the crust:
For the filling:
- 4 cups fresh blueberries
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Milk, for brushing pie crust
- Sugar, for dusting
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare dough for a two-crust pie. Line the bottom of one 9-inch pie plate with one of the crusts.
In a large bowl, gently stir together the blueberries, sugar, lemon zest and juice, and flour until the blueberries are coasted. Fill the pie plate with the blueberry mixture.
Create a lattice top for the pie with the remaining pie crust. Cut the crust into strips using a knife or a pastry cutter. If you need help creating a lattice top, refer to this handy diagram from Bon Appetit. Brush the top of the pie with milk and dust with sugar.
Cover the edge of the pie crust with aluminum foil to prevent burnt edges. Bake the pie for 25 minutes then remove foil and bake for another 25 minutes. The filling will be bubbly and the crust will be golden brown. Remove the pie from the oven then set it on a rack to cool.
Serve a slice with a side of freshly whipped cream. Enjoy it with someone you love.