So all this time I’ve been thinking that old nutritional proverb, “You are what you eat,” began sometime in my youth. The sixties. Oh how wrong I was. Widespread use of that time-tested phrase (loved by dieters everywhere, right?) actually began in 1940, the year the health reference above was published. Coined by nutrition expert and radio personality Victor Lindlahr, “You are what you eat” burrowed deep into our parents’ and grandparents’ minds so they could gently harass their chubby offspring who showed up a few years later. Lindlahr was the forerunner to today’s health and fitness culture and back in 1940, his comprehensive kitchen handbook on fruits and veggies sold more than half a million copies!! No wonder everyone chimed in with that remark back in 1968 when I wanted another of my Nana’s chocolate cupcakes.
The 128-page reference is still useful today. Each page is dedicated to a fruit or vegetable and contains nutritional information (granted, that may need updating), buying guidelines, preparation tips and simple recipes.
The blackberry entry that I locked onto actually contained an anecdote about the fruit’s disease-fighting powers. Lindlahr wrote that Civil War combatants once laid down their weapons so soldiers on both sides could pick berries around the battlefield. Seems blackberries back then were used to relieve digestive ailments and dysentery from spoiled food. Today we gobble them down not only because they taste good, but they are a great source of Vitamin C and fiber while being low in calories and saturated fat.
The blackberry page has a simple pie recipe, and since the heat wave has abated, it was time to use the oven again. But pie? The best pie maker in my life was my mother, who made a mean apple tart for many Sunday dinners. I scrambled to find her no-fail pie crust recipe, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw her handwriting, almost 12 years after her death. I didn’t need to consult a vintage cookbook for pie crust because I was going to recreate my mother’s version.
Just looking at the compact, left-tilting script makes me happy. I remember her telling me this recipe worked every time, but I don’t live in a world where pie is created each week. There is no baking day. There is no it’s-Sunday-so-it-must-be-pie tradition. Plus, doing pie dough is tricky, but I followed her recipe and did my best to remember her tricks.
Mom’s Pie Crust
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening (she always used Crisco)
3-4 tablespoons ice water
Using my hands, I mixed the dry ingredients and the Crisco until the crumbles in the mixture were pea sized (standard pastry-making instructions). I spooned in the ice water and formed a ball of dough, being careful not to get carried away with the mixing. She never fooled around with the dough too much. Just like Mom, I placed the dough between two sheets of waxed paper and rolled it out big enough to fit my 9-inch pie plate. After rolling, remove the top layer of waxed paper and place the pie pan upside down over the pastry. Flip it over and peel off the second sheet of paper. Fit the dough into the pie plate and trim the excess. Crimp the edges so it looks, well, pretty. I think I did alright.
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon flour and sugar on pastry. Mix 4 cups prepared berries (I just washed mine and made sure no hulls were attached) with 3/4 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons flour (he suggests using more sugar if you want a sweeter pie but I stayed with the minimum amount). Fill the pastry shell with fruit and sugar mixture. At this point you can add another layer of pastry, but I like a crumb pie instead of more dough. I didn’t have a recipe for crumbs handy, so I phoned a friend, who gave me her mother-in-law’s standard mixture: 1 cup flour, 1/2 c brown sugar, 1/4 cup soft margarine, 1/2 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar. This recipe yields enough crumbs for two pies (freeze what you don’t use). Again, using my hands, I made a crumbly mixture that I spread over top of the pie.
Bake in a 425 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until fruit is soft and pastry delicately browned.
And that was supper. On a Sunday.
Tonight, I was blackberry pie.