In the months before my youngest was born, my mother suggested to my husband and I that she live with us to care for the baby after I returned to work. We’d been looking for a larger house since my two older boys were on the verge of their teen years, and adding a third child meant room to stretch would be important for us all. She knew I wasn’t looking forward to leaving the baby with a caregiver, and was growing tired of her own job, the hours it required, and the physical pain it caused her. My husband is a far more easy going person than I could ever be, so he agreed and we changed the focus of our search to a home with four or five bedrooms instead of three.
We happened on to the perfect house one day by misreading the directions I’d written down. An open house was just concluding and the realtors were preparing to leave. We thought it looked perfect from the outside, but as soon as we entered — all heading in different directions — we were convinced. It had only one owner in its 40 year history and was unique in so many ways. Tucked into a hillside on a half acre shaped like a slice of pie, it faced east and overlooked the mature trees in the valley. The back property hadn’t been cared for in years, but was a wealth of possibilities; apricot, plum, tangerine, orange, grapefruit, loquat, and nut trees filled the space. It was perfect.
The year we moved in, the winter rains were especially heavy. Slowly, the parched hillside turned green and bulbs planted years before began to push through layers of fallen leaves. Sprigs of grape vines and berry bushes also appeared. Saturday mornings before sunrise, the baby would wake earlier than I wanted, but it allowed us both some time alone. With a bottle in his hands and coffee in one of mine, we’d walk up the hill in the early quiet of the day to see what new surprise we might find, finally growing after so many years of neglect. I loved that house.
Our trees often produced more than we could enjoy, so after freezer jam had been made, berries frozen, juice made, and sweets baked, we’d pack it up and set it down by the street with a “Free” sign. It rarely took long for passers by to stop and help themselves to the produce, emptying the buckets we’d carry back up the hill to fill again.
Now, I have to depend on the market for most of what we used to give away, but I have learned recently of many organizations involved in gleaning urban fruit for a variety of purposes. Whether it’s to gather and donate to those in need, or pluck and enjoy to keep it from rotting on the ground, interest in urban fruit foraging is gathering momentum as we all begin to think more responsibly about food.
I was gifted a big bag of Meyer lemons not too long ago, so had to pair them with the blackberries showing up at the market. The berries will never compare with those we picked on our hill, but until I find them growing wild in San Diego, I’ll have to be tolerant — or do without.
But then, there is this pie…
Meyer Lemon and Blackberry Chiffon Pie
For the crust…
1-3/4 c. Honey Maid graham crackers (about 12 whole)
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. minced crystallized ginger
1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350º F. In a large mixing bowl combine graham crumbs, sugar, salt, and minced ginger. Add butter and stir until mixture is evenly moistened.
Transfer crumb mixture to an 8″ x 2″ fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, and press crumbs firmly and evenly onto bottom and up sides to top of dish. Set on a baking sheet and bake about 15 minutes or until crust is firm and slightly darker in color. Allow to cool completely on a baking rack at room temperature.
When completely cool, spread blackberry jam (see below) over the bottom of the crust. Add a layer of fresh blackberries over the jam and set aside.
For the filling…
3/4 c. strained fresh lemon juice
3/4 c. plus 2 tablespoons sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 c. water
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1-1/4 c. chilled whipping cream
1/4 c. powdered sugar
2 c. ice cubes (or more as needed)
For the blackberry layer…
1/3 c. seedless blackberry jam
10 oz. fresh blackberries
Combine water and gelatin in a small bowl and allow to soften, about 15 minutes. In a medium sauce pan, add cold water and ice cubes to fill half way and set aside.
In a small saucepan mix sugar, lemon juice, egg yolks, grated peel and salt over medium heat. Whisk constantly until mixture thickens (mixture should mound like curd) and thermometer registers 175º F, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and add gelatin mixture, stirring until smooth.
Place saucepan in ice bath, stirring occasionally and refilling ice as needed until filling is cool to touch, about 10 minutes. Scrape into a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form, add sugar, and continue to whip until firm peaks form. Fold 1/4 whipped cream into lemon mixture until combined. Fold in remaining cream in 3 amounts.
Pour lemon filling over the blackberry layer, mounding slightly in center. Chill until set, about 4 hours, or overnight.
- This pie is plain delicious, not complicated to make, and can be made a day ahead. What more could you ask for?
- The original recipe does not include the blackberry layer.
- I saw the original recipe in two places with only one crediting Chef John Folse (who has an amazing number of recipes I plan to drool over in the next few days).
- I used a graham cracker crust recipe I’ve tried before in my Key Lime Cheesecake instead of the gingersnaps called for in the original recipe and added the crystallized ginger. Honestly, I don’t think I could taste the ginger.
- Lemon and blackberry compliment one another perfectly, but what doesn’t go well with lemon? Raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries are all tasty and would work in this pie. Or, you could use a mixture.
- I reduced the amount of lemon zest because the amount of lemon juice in this recipe is substantial. The result is excellent, so I can only imagine that three times the zest would make an extremely tart pie. Maybe.
- The crust is fabulous with this. It’s crunchy and holds up against the filling perfectly. No soggy crust at all!
- It stores in the fridge just fine with no covering.
- Have too many lemons? Remove the zest and freeze it for later. Squeeze the juice from the lemons, measure 1 T of juice and pour each into the container of a plastic ice cube tray. When they’re frozen, pop them into baggies to store.
- Avoid storing your citrus with apples. It will ripen and mold very quickly!
Urban Foraging, Gleaning, and Giving:
- Neighborhood Fruit — Nationwide organization that connects people who want to find and/or share fruit, as well as forage for fruit growing on public property
- Ample Harvest — Organization that helps gardeners with surplus fruit and vegetables donate to those in need.
- Village Harvest — Organization that promotes sustainable use of urban resources by organizing backyard fruit harvesting for donation to the needy as well as provide education about fruit tree care, harvesting, and preservation. Great backyard orchard resources.
- The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation — FTPF plants edible fruit trees world wide to benefit the environment and its inhabitants
- Fallen Fruit — Los Angeles organization that works to redevelop the idea of community and the relationship between those who have resources and those who don’t
- Veggie Trader — An organization working to put backyard produce to work for the community, the environment, and those in need