Berry Pies: Some Filling Tips

Uncooked Berry Pie

Berries are fragile, which is why we love them so much off the bush or in a bowl.  But there are a couple of things to keep in mind once you decide to cook them, like in a pie.  First.  Often they are less sweet than you imagine, even when they are perfectly ripe.  Don’t confuse the full berry flavor with sweetness.  Second. Blueberries tend to need some acid to brighten the flavor and even blackberries can use some for balance.

Third. I believe in adding some starch to thicken fruit pies.  I don’t want berry juice to run all over the plate.  I want to get it into my mouth.  That is the role of starch as a thickener.  When I comes to berries I like the visual clarity I get from cornstarch or instant clear gel (another kind of modified starch).  However I also love the pastry like flavor that wheat flour lends to fillings.  So I do a combo.

Some folks drain off the juices that collect once the berries are sweetened and cook that juice with a bit of thickener, then add it back to the berries then continue on with the pie.  I don’t.  I like the simpler approach of putting the filling raw into the pie and letting both crust and filling cook together.  There might be a tiny bit more of a fiddly learning curve to get the filling just right for you, but I think the end result is better.

If you want to read more about my emotional pie connection take a look a my Pie Page on this site. You can also find out about my Pie-a-Day App and my in-depth on line class for making the best crust and putting the whole pie together. The class is on sale now.  Here’s a link for you.

Recipe: Beef Chili

chili with beans

It’s really easy to customize chili.  There are so many chile powders to choose from.  If you like a smokey flavor, add a bit of chipotle chile powder.  The New Mexico chile powder has a brighter flavor and redder color.  Classic chile powder is deeper and has the addition of some spices already in it.  I’m not a huge cumin fan so I use just a tiny touch.  If you love cumin, then use more. On the other hand I really like Mexican oregano, but it’s assertive so I just use a little pinch. I also love the trick of thickening a too thin chili with Maseca or masa harina, the flour used to make bad corn tortillas.  In chili it’s delicious.

The type and grind of meat will also change the personality of your bowl.  Ground meat is a classic.  If you have a local butcher nearby ask him to coarse grind the chili meat for a change.  Sometimes I like to make my bowl of red like a stew, with pieces of meat cut a bit smaller but still bigger than even a coarse grind will give you.

Chili is always better the next day (unless you use a pressure cooker).  Serve it with bowls of minced raw onion, sour cream and grated sharp cheddar cheese.

pressure cooker instructions:  Cook as the instructions below specify up to the point of simmering, except wait to add your cooked beans.  Put on your pressure cooker lid and bring to high pressure.  Stabilize pressure and cook for 15 minutes.  Let depressurize naturally then open lid.  Add the beans and let soak up flavor until ready to serve.