Appalachian Food

The First Blackberry Pie

Today’s guest post was written by Ethelene Dyer Jones.

The First Blackberry Pie

On the farm in the mountains where I grew up, we looked forward to the first ripe blackberries. If enough had ripened, it would mean a blackberry cobbler for dessert after we’d picked, looked and washed them.

I don’t remember any recipe for making blackberry pie. My mother knew how to do it, just because she’d done it so long. I remember watching her and then doing it as nearly she did as possible.

Basically, it took a “pie pan” to place the berries in. I don’t mean by this a “pie plate” like we used for making pies with a rolled-out crust and a filling.

A cobbler pie pan was a round pan about 8 or 9 inches in diameter with sides about 2 and ½ inches up and holding about 2 quarts. Put the washed and “looked” berries (making sure no stems remained) in the pan.

Cover with water, and a little more than covered.

Put in about a cup and a half of sugar.

Bring to boil. Put in 1 teaspoon of vanilla. This seasoning helps to take the bitterness out of wild blackberries.

Make pie crust—not the regular kind, but rich biscuit dough, with more shortening (in those days we used lard!) than for regular biscuits.

Roll out the dough on a floured board until very thin.

Cut strips of dough and drop about 2-inch lengths into the boiling berry mixture.

Turn down heat (or if using a wood stove like we did when I was a child, move to a cooler part of the stove.)

Let this first layer of berries and “dumplings” cook until the dough is cooked through and set, and you still have plenty of juice, but it’s thickened. Then roll out a thin crust, and again cut strips, but this time “lace” them to cover the top of the berry/dumplings mixture.

If you have cream saved from milk, spread it over the top of pie.  Sprinkle sugar on top.

Put in heated oven and bake until the crust is golden brown. Remove from oven.  If you like it hot, spoon out a serving and enjoy.  Or, if you can do so, wait and serve for dessert after lunch or supper.

You may have to experiment with this old fashioned way of making berry cobbler until you get the feel of having the right amount of berries, water, dough for dumplings to thicken the mixture, and the top crust which you want to bake to a golden brown.

The only drawback to gathering wild blackberries for making homemade jelly, delicious cobbler pies, and canning the berries for winter use is all the “chiggers” caught while picking them. We used to rub kerosene on our legs and arms to try to ward off chiggers. But I still recall that those little pests had a heyday with berry pickers’ arms and legs. But our buckets of ripe, juicy berries were always recompense for any discomfort of chigger bites. Why don’t you go berry-picking and reward yourself and your family with this Appalachian treat:  Blackberry Cobbler!


After Ethelene sent me this guest post I couldn’t wait to try out her Mother’s recipe. The bread/dough of a cobbler is my favorite part, so I was intrigued by the addition of the dumplings. Since you have to roll out the dough, the recipe took a little longer to make than the recipe I usually use, but it was so worth it! Ethelene’s recipe hands down made the best blackberry cobbler I’ve ever eaten.


p.s. I used one of my cast iron frying pans for the cobbler-and it worked perfectly.


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  • Reply
    June 30, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Love love love blackberry anything! I can’t wait to try this recipe. but where I live in Washington State, we don’t get blackberries until September. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    June 30, 2011 at 6:50 am

    This is an old, not-written-down, but “learned” recipe, like we had with most of our cooking on a mountain farm.
    One generation taught the next how to cook. I remember that I “worried” my mother about how to cook this and that when I had to scoot a kitchen chair up to the work counter and have my own hands in the dough! Fortunately, she did not push me away, but taught me as I watched how to make this pie, and many other dishes. One of my favorites was June Apple Stack Cake. It was always a treat when June apples came in. She made the “cake” dough much like the piecrust dough, only she put sugar in it, enough to make it somewhat like shortbread. We cooked the layers in our cast-iron “hoe-cake” pan on top of the stove. She cooked the fresh apples and made applesauce from June apples, sweetened it to taste, and put just the right amount of cinnamon in the mixture. Sometimes it had to be thickened with flour, stirred into the applesauce and cooked a bit until it was of a thick consistency. We would begin with a layer of the shortbread, then the applesauce, and on up until we had seven or eight layers! Oh! How delicious that was! Then in the wintertime, we would use dried apples, cook them, and make the filling for the layers of the hoecakes.

  • Reply
    Kim Haynes
    June 29, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    My favorite recipe lately has been blueberry pie with a lattice top crust, and everybody asks “Is that a homemade crust?” Why, yes it is! I can’t wait to try a blueberry cobbler, but I was puzzled about the dumplings in the cobbler and the crust on top, never seen that before but will definitely try it. And down in South MS we call them red bugs, not chiggers. The first time my husband (whose family is from West Va) came home toalking about chiggers I had no idea what he was talking about!

  • Reply
    Mary Jane Plemons
    June 29, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    I have used the “batter” recipe, but our favorite kind uses regular pie dough. I cook the berries with sugar and water while I make the dough…not very long…just long enough to disolve the sugar and heat the berries through and start the juices releasing. I’ve never cooked dumplings in the filling, but roll out half the dough and put some strips in the bottom of the pan…about 2 inches wide and varying lengths, not making a solid crust. Then pour in the berries, dot with butter, and top with more strips of pie crust. Sprinkle with sugar and bake. Oh, my…wish I had some berries!
    When my husband and his twin brother and the next brother, who was 17 months younger, were around ten or so years old, they picked berries every day and sold them to the nearby country store to buy their mother a present for Mother’s Day. They were the eldest of a big very poor family (12 children). Their younger sister said she knew Mama wanted a bra, because she didn’t have any. They told the store owner, who knew the family well, and when they had picked enough blackberries, they bought the bra for their Mama. Years later, after we married, she told me that story, and she cried and laughed all at the same time. I think it is one of the sweetest stories I know.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    June 29, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    If things were going bad, if melancholy was all around, I would be all happy once again if I could sit at the kitchen table and listen to Ethelene talk as she cooked.
    And the pictures and the ways of telling the story, her words are a balm; the recipe just an extra reward from the reading.
    Before she put them on to cook, my Momma used to look her beans, because they might have little rocks or little dirt balls in them. She always looked her berries, too. And, it should be a common expression, but it’s rare when I hear the word used like that.
    You have a treasure in your writing friends, Tipper.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    June 28, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    Mitchell has wonderful stories about blackberries, chiggers, & rattlesnakes! And, of course, all the wonderful things his mother could do with the hundreds & hundres of gallons they picked. He says blackberry pickin’ was the only time he ever saw her wear pants (his daddy’s overalls).Our berries aren’t ripe yet & the anticipation is killing me!

  • Reply
    Greta Koehl
    June 28, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    This looks like and reminds me of my mother’s wonderful lattice-top boysenberry cobblers. I’m going to have to try again to reproduce the kind of cobbler she baked – I’ll try the “dumpling approach” described here.

  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Something similar to this was the way Mama made cobblers for Daddy. I don’t remember the berries being left in the cobbler though; maybe she strained them out. It was never my favorite because I liked the berries. She canned berries too and I always liked them with a little milk and sugar.

  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Oh gosh this looks fantastic and reminds me so much of my Grandma. I visited her in Southern Oregon when I was 9, no chiggers but lots of wild blackberries. She turned those berries into the best cobbler I’d ever eaten. YUM thank you for the memory reminder.

  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Thanks for letting Mrs. Jones show
    her version of the old fashioned
    way to make a blackberry cobbler.
    I’ve been craving one since it got
    warm weather and that thing’s worth chanceing the chiggers for.
    Mine aren’t ripe yet, I’m a little
    higher up I recon…Ken

  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    My cobbler is more like a cake than a pie. Although it is very good I am definitely going to try this new (old) recipe. It looks delicious! Here in Kentucky we have had raspberries this summer and the black berries will be ready to pick soon. Thanks for posting that very timely recipe.

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    June 28, 2011 at 11:21 am

    What a wonderful recipe. My mother was a great cook but the best blackberry cobbler from my childhood came from my Aunt Ophelia Moore.
    She cooked on a wood stove and I well remember watching her cobbler as it sat on the back of the stove. She did not do the cross strips on top but had a full top crust with a nice sprinkling of sugar.
    As the pie bubbled on the back of the stove top, that wonderful blackberry juice would bubble out of the fork holes and color the sugar.
    Oh! The agony a small boy could suffer staring at that sight and knowing dessert was a long way off.
    I have to try this recipe. I have a cast iron “chicken cooker” with nice high sides that should work well.
    Thanks for this

  • Reply
    Eva M. Wike, Ph.D.
    June 28, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Everything that Ethelene writes is good! But this result is delicious!
    Just yesterday Jim picked the first quart of blueberries from our ‘blueberry hill’ bushes! We made the BLUEBERRY HILL for our third grandson in honor of his birth! We got nine bushes – with three different varieties of blueberry. That’s what Mr. Lewis (Lewis Nursery upon Long Branch) advised us to do! Thank goodness that third grandson LOVES blueberries! When he is all grown up, I hope blueberry pie thrills him as much as that blackberry pie thrills me! Thanks Ethelene!
    & TIPPER!

  • Reply
    Rose C.
    June 28, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Berries are just starting to come into season here! Great eats! I make pancake syrup out of the berries for great winter eating.

  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 10:49 am

    That sounds delicious! I must go blackberry pickin’!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 28, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Tipper–I thoroughly enjoyed this guest post, and truth be told, anything which has to do with blackberries gets my attention in a big way. I loved to pick ’em as a boy and that hasn’t changed. A gallon brought the whopping sume of twenty-five cents during my boyhood in the 1950s, and if I had a $100 bill for every gallon I picked for that two-bit payment my financial circumstances would look a lot better than is the present reality.
    Like you, I’m mighty partial to the crust part of a cobbler, and here’s an alternative recipe (it comes from a cookbook I wrote in company with my wife entitled “Wild Bounty,” the one I sent you and the Deer Hunter, but it was passed down from Mom). It is the essence of simplicity.
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 stick butter (1/4 cup)
    1 cup sugar
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 cup milk
    Blackberries to taste (two to four cups according to whether you prefer lots of berries or a goodly amount of crust)
    Melt the butter in a shallow 9 x 13-inch pan, then blend it in with all the ingredients except the blackberries. When your batter is smooth, pour in the blackberries and bake in a 350-degree oven until the crust is golden brown.
    Quick, easy, no work with dough, and delicious, and the recipe works just as well with blueberries, strawberries, dewberries, huckleberries, or raspberries. I like mine piping hot with a scoop of ice cream or, better still, some milk poured over it in a bowl.
    Now you and Ms. Dyer have gone and done it. I’ve got to get up from this computer and bake a cobbler (I picked a gallon of the key ingredient last evening).
    Finally, I wonder if Ethelene (what a great name!)is related to the Swain County Dyer clan? There’s a patch of them, and they were related to one of the great old-time mountain hunters of yesteryear, Sam Hunnicutt, author of “Twenty Years Hunting and Fishing in the Smokies.” His wife was a Dyer.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    petra michelle
    June 28, 2011 at 9:43 am

    What a sumptious post, Tipper! I can only imagine Ethelene making her amazing blueberry cobbler while your daughters are singing “Glory Mountain.”
    I would love to try to make it as a homemade blueberry pie, cobbler is my favorite dessert! I’ll have to consider a special occasion with so little time left on my hands these days!
    You and your family’s festive and warmth always shine through! :))

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    June 28, 2011 at 9:39 am

    This sounds just like Granny’s! I have a gallon or so of berries picked. I think I know what will be in my oven today!
    Thanks so much Tipper and Ethelene. I really enjoyed the post. I would like to link it on my blog today.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    June 28, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Hooray! The music is back!!! My very favorite pie, too. Life is good.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    June 28, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Will definitely be trying this one. Blackberries are my favorite of all berries.
    I remember when I was a kid trying to beat the mockingbirds to the blackberries. Mockers would eat their weight in blackberries!

  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 8:08 am

    we were just talking about blackberry cobbler yesterday, while floating in the pool. hubby found a tiny plant in one of his buckets and said doesn’t that look like a black berry plant and it does and we hope it is. yummmy

  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Down here in coastal GA the berries tend to be small, unless we have been lucky with rain–not often the case. Still, each years we put on heavy boots and jeans, and get some snake sticks and go foraging for enough blackberries for a pie. YUM.
    In 2009 we were camping up at Buck Creek at blackberry time. My husband made sure there were blackberry pancakes every morning. Naturally after a couple of indulgence, I got in trouble. A case of the poops is definitely inconvenient while camping! My brother-In-Law had the cure…make a tea of blackberry leaves and drink that, he said. I did what he said, and it worked.
    Once when I had some berries waiting for a pie but had to go to work, a friend from the mid-west offered to make the pie while I was gone. I snatched the bowl from her and ask her how her mama made her blackberry pie. She said her mama didn’t make pie, but she supposed it to be like any other berry pie. I told her to leave her hands off my blackberries!

  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 8:08 am

    That looks so good! I’ve never ‘cooked’ my berries before using them in pie or cobbler. This post is making me look forward even more to our first blackberries this year! (And I can totally relate to the chiggers~I already have several bites from them).

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 28, 2011 at 8:07 am

    WOW, that looks great. This is the kind of recipe I can handle. This is the way I cook….a little of this and a little of that!
    I’ve heard of dumplings in a cobbler but never had much luck doing it. I got it now. It’s the water.
    I had a friend from Tennessee who talked about peach cobbler with dumplings. If he was still around I could make it for him now.
    The top dough sounds like a cross between biscuit dough and pie shell dough, with more shortening than biscuits but a little less than a pie shell.
    Thanks so much, Ethelene. There is nothing like wild blackberries!
    I can remember the deep cobbler cooker my grandmother used. It was Jewel Tea, if that means anything to you all….but you’ll have to be older to know!Ha!
    Thanks Tipper and Ethelene for the memories!

  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 8:03 am

    This sounds wonderful! Going to have to try it!

  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Am so ready for a fresh cobbler. Her recipe sounds like one my Mama used to make. I don’t do well with the seeds so have to strain the juice to make mine. But they are so good anyway you can get them.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    June 28, 2011 at 7:24 am

    This recipe sounds like the one I remember my Aunt, Granny and Mother making years ago…and what I remember a original blackberry pie cobbler looked like..
    In the later years Mom and myself started making the one where you melt the butter in the pan and then add your flour, oil, milk mixture and then the berries,
    sugar, etc. on top…and bake. The dough would rise thru the berries to the top and bake like little toasted mounds..The rave when this recipe was published was that this cobbler was easy and quick to make using only one pan..ha
    I believe Ethelenes recipe is the true old mountain cobbler pie recipe!….
    Thanks Tipper, and I can’t wait until peaches get ripe!

  • Reply
    My Carolina Kitchen
    June 28, 2011 at 7:17 am

    What a great idea to use the cast iron pan Tipper. It’s perfect for this kind of crust and you didn’t have to worry about the filling running over the pan.
    I find handed down recipes like this very enjoyable. You can almost feel yourself in an old kitchen somewhere in your past rolling out dough. Vanilla would be perfect to cut the tartness of the wild berries. Now if I can get to the wild berries before the bear does….

  • Reply
    June 28, 2011 at 6:48 am

    OMGosh, that sounds so luscious and looks beautiful too! My mouth is watering 🙂

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