Friday, June 4, 2010

Invoking Memories

Recipe: Berry Crisp

The best compliment I've ever received from someone who ate my food was an old co-worker who said that my Christmas rugelach reminded her of the ones her aunts used to make when she was a kid.  She said the best food is the food that invokes memories, and it is so true!  Vegetable and barley soup reminds me of my grandmother.  She always had a pot of it simmering on the stove when I went to her house.  Rice sprinkled with seaweed will always remind me of my freshman year in college, when Husband and I practically lived off the stuff (he had a handy little rice cooker in his dorm room).  And blackberries...well there will always be a special place in my heart for blackberries.

Growing up, there was an abundance of blackberry bushes all around my neighborhood.  Right across the street was the best spot for picking.  Come summer we would pick tubs and tubs of blackberries and bake tarts, pies, and cobblers galore!  I remember my neighbor's adorably cuddly Samoyed, rather ironically named Killer, helping himself to the berries of our labor if we weren't careful.  I remember baking with my mom in the kitchen, my sister and I fighting over who got to eat the leftover pie dough.  And unfortunately, I remember the year a fire burned down a sizable portion the area due to a brush fire, after which the city passed super strict laws about the distance of brush growing near peoples' houses.  They came and cut away all those wonderfully blackberry bushes, and our summer blackberry baking became nothing but an occasional occurrence. It was sad. Those poor blackberry bushes would never have dreamed of catching fire and burning our neighbor's house down!

To this day blackberries are my favorite berry.  A good, ripe blackberry has such a deep, sweet flavor.  It has the brightness of a berry, but something more too.  They're just more complex than a blueberry and strawberry in a way I can't describe. You just can't beat it.  So when they were on sale for cheap a few weeks ago, naturally, I stocked up!

I was tempted to do a cobbler, always my mom's go-to dessert.  They're delicious and easy, what's not to like?  But I was really in the mood for a little texture, and something with oats.  Oats are just the best in desserts, aren't they?  Once I decided on doing a crisp, I hunted around for a recipe, and ended up kind of mushing a bunch of ideas into one.  After the muffins, I didn't really have enough blackberries to go for a mono-fruit dessert, so instead I opted for an ensemble.

I had some delicious pears, a few strawberries, and to get the volume of fruit I wanted, I threw in a few frozen blueberries I had left over.  The great thing about crisps is that you can use whatever you want.  You could do one entirely with blackberries, or mix it up with some apples or stone fruit.  Whatever floats your boat, which is extremely useful when there's something different on sale at the store every week at this time of year.

I did end up making this boozy by throwing in some brandy.  When it first came out of the oven and I burned my mouth I was so impatient to try it, I could taste the brandy and it was delicious.  But when I ate some the next day the flavor had dissipated and I couldn't really taste it anymore.  I like booze to play a part in the background of my baked goods, but if it's not even detectable, then you're just wasting perfectly good alcohol..  Blasphemy!  Next time I would just leaving it out all together.  Blasphemy!  Damned if I do, damned if I don't.  It really just comes down to what fruit you're using.  If I had used only blackberries, the brandy probably would have come through a bit better.  If I was using apples, some apple brandy would have been awesome.  Grand Marnier and peaches. Bourbon and apricots.  Chambord and raspberries...

I'll stop before my drool over the keyboard rends finishing this post impossible, but the point is, finding ways to better booze this recipe is as limitless as deciding what fruit to use.  And that's what makes it fun!  Crisps are right there with cobblers when it comes to simplicity.  This is definitely one you could make with your kids, and start your own food memory tradition.

You may notice there's a bit of ice cream in these pictures.  I think ice cream and crisps go together like booze and berries. But it's a trick!  That's no ice cream.  It's a frozen banana.  Have you heard of this trick? Take a frozen banana (because you're freezer is overflowing with overripe bananas you're constantly stashing away like mine is, right?), and put it in the food processor.  At first it'll look a bit iffy, but after a minute or two, the banana breaks down enough that it gets this irresistibly creamy texture that is very reminiscent of ice cream (or frozen yogurt may be a bit more appropriate).  Seriously, that is 100% banana!  It's an easy, healthy dessert!  If you want to really spice it up, throw a spoonful of peanut butter in the food processor with the banana and top it with some chocolate chips. Heaven!  Ok, I admit it. I wanted a scoop of ice cream for the picture, and with my lack of an ice cream maker, I used the frozen banana trick.  But that's all changed now because I am now the proud owner of an ice cream maker!  Yay!  But that's another post.

So what's one of your favorite food memories?

Boozy Berry Crisp
loosely adapted from Parade

makes about 8 servings

For the berries:
6 cups berries (or other fruit of your choice, cut into bite size pieces)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp lemon juice
a pinch of cinnamon
1/4 cup booze of choice (completely optional, choose wisely)

For the crisp:
1 cup oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
7 TB butter, cubed and chilled

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 9" pie plate (or similar-sized vessel) with baking spray.
  2. Combine all the ingredients for the berries in a bowl and set aside.  [If you want to save on dishes to wash, you can just mix this directly into the pie plate.]
  3. In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients for the crisp except the butter. Stir to combine, then cut in the butter with a pastry blender, a fork, or even your fingers, until it comes together into small crumbles.
  4. Pour the berry mixture into the pie plate, then sprinkle the crisp mixture over the top.  Bake for 1 hour, or until the crisp is a golden brown and the berries underneath have make a bubbling, thick syrup of deliciousness.  Let cool for 15 minutes.  Trust me on this one, it's hot.  You might want to place the pie plate on a baking sheet in case the fruit bubbles over, creating a total mess in your oven.  I decided to be a daredevil and wing it, and I came out unscathed.  Or rather, my oven did.


  1. Yum, I love a berry crisp! And I love the frozen banana trick! Only thing I don't like about it is that it makes me dig out my food processor and then I have to clean the darn thing, boo :)

  2. Kelly, you could probably use a blender if it's got a good enough blade. I have a crappy $20 one that won't blend squat, so my food processor is my go-to appliance. I use it several times a week now!

  3. Blackberries are such a memory for me too. The smell of the bushes in the sun is intoxicating and always reminds me of summer.