Before my mother cultivated her own backyard patch of brambles, most every summer weekend included a blackberry expedition. We’d head to our deer lease, outside Brady, or sweet-talk our way onto whatever private property she’d been eyeing. My brother and I would coonhound along, following our noses to any promising tangle of scrub. “Berries!” she’d shout at last, setting our dog to barking as we tumbled into one another. Dad would lie on the hood of the car while Jim and I dodged bees and grappled with the thorns. Even just a handful of the fat, sweet fruits made the bugs and stickers worth it.
She eventually transplanted a few blackberry bushes to her garden, a wild, untamed space filled with figs, mustang grapes, and tomatoes. After her death, Dad hired someone to eradicate the brambles because they snagged his shirt, he said. I think maybe they reminded him too much of her. I’ll always wonder if they brought to mind the time she made him pull over after she spotted blackberry canes along an East Texas back road. He’d sat in the car—watching for the cops, he said—while she dug up the roots. Did he remember that day as he ate his way through the last of the clumpy preserves he’d labeled Stolenberry Jam?
What I remember is Pig Pie, a blue-black cobbler I preferred to any cake on my birthday. Mother made the crust by pinching butter into flour until it was like wet sand, then rolling out the dough and cutting it into pig shapes to lay atop the berries. I’ve spent years trying to get that cobbler just right. But the berries, even from the farmers’ market, never cook down into the dense filling that I recall. I think it’s because they are not the ones Mother whispered to every summer.
The last time I drove to my girlhood home, to put it on the market, I had to pry open the garden gate. I’d expected to find parched earth. Lo and behold, Mother’s fig tree greeted me laden with fruit. The brambles Dad had worked so hard to defeat embraced the house, framing the window from which Mother had watched her hummingbirds. Bees buzzed past.
And for one last magical time, there was Pig Pie for my birthday.
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 cups blackberries
1 cup sugar
big pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
milk, for brushing crust
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Melt butter, stir in flour and lemon juice, and pour over berries. Add sugar and salt. Stir until berries are coated.
Prepare your favorite pie crust. You can use a double crust or just a top crust, but to make a real Pig Pie, create pig shapes with a cookie cutter to lay atop the berries. Pour the berries into a deep-dish pie pan and overlay them with the top crust or pig shapes. Brush the crust or pigs with milk and sprinkle lightly with sugar.
Place the cobbler on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, until the edges of the crust start to brown. Then cover the edges with foil and bake another 30 minutes at 375 degrees. Allow to cool. Serves 6 to 8.