Every Summer, Raspberries

"We would sit on my windowsill and eat raspberries," my childhood best friend remembered last week. Despite vast and uncomfortable political, lifestyle, and religious differences, I’d decided to connect with her on facebook. We had not been in touch for many years.

Noelle’s house was a mirror image of mine, across the street, but the kitchen was just a bit airier, there were half as many children running around, and her mother didn’t care what we did in the kitchen as long as we cleaned up. In my memory, at least, we made our first forays into cooking totally unsupervised.

I’ve always known that when I own a house someday, it will have a raspberry bush in the backyard; preferably outside my bedroom window. In mid-July Noelle and I would climb up on her windowsill and pick all the raspberries we could reach, giggling about how we could pick berries indoors. (This is an especially convenient arrangement for an Oregon summer.) Some days we just ate them straight off the canes, but some days we would take a giant old yellow plastic bowl and fill it. After we’d picked all we could from out of the window, we’d go outside and resume picking the normal way.

You don’t hear much about raspberry pie. We didn’t know any better. One day we had all the raspberries anyone could want, and somehow took it into our heads to make pie out of them. Neither of us knew much about cooking, but we had read books where people cooked and thought it sounded like a fun thing to do. (We were both avid readers of old-fashioned children’s books and also counted embroidery and making daisy chains among our interests, though we had to guess about how daisy chains were made. We guessed wrong.) I’m going to put my age at about seven, the first time we made raspberry pie, and Noelle’s at nine.

At my house we had dozens of cookbooks. At Noelle’s there was just one: a battered Joy of Cooking. Looking at my own copy of The Joy of Cooking now, I’m not surprised that I don’t find a recipe for raspberry pie. But I do find what I’m sure is our recipe, a universal berry pie formula. It says raspberries can be used, though it suggests 2/3 raspberries and 1/3 currants (personally, I think that sounds just as odd).

The pie crust recipe we used was from her mother’s recipe file, and it was called Never-Fail Pie Crust. We wondered how pie crust could fail. For years Noelle and I were smug about our ability to make pie crust, which other people, mostly in books, seemed to think was hard. Ours never failed.

We mixed the raspberries up as directed with corn starch and sugar, and tasted them. Delicious! (The floury taste of uncooked cornstarch always brings me back to that moment.) We rolled out a single pie crust—for whatever reason, we were not going to bother with a top crust or lattice; for such industrious little girls, we were also lazy—poured the raspberry mixture in, baked our beautiful pie, and served what must have resembled a large pile of raspberry jam to the family.

It was, undoubtedly, a cruel and sad thing to do with the freshest possible Oregon raspberries. But from that day on we counted ourselves accomplished pastry chefs, and continued to make raspberry pie for years.

Unsupervised Raspberry Pie, based on The Joy of Cooking

Dough for Single-Crust Pie

4 cups fresh raspberries, picked minutes before

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350. Crush the raspberries lightly with a potato masher until they’re nice and juicy, then stir in the cornstarch and sugar. Let this rest while you mix up the pie crust, roll it out, and line a pie pan. Taste the raspberry mixture, smack your lips, then pour it into the unbaked pie shell. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until what you can see of the crust is golden brown. Serve with pride.