Containing Tradition in Crust
Kate Lebo is a poet, food writer, and teacher from the Pacific Northwest. She's well known for her Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour, and Butter where she teaches how to handmake the best fruit pie you've ever had. She's partnered with Driscoll's to share her secrets to the best raspberry pie and the journey she took to get there.
When considering new Thanksgiving dessert traditions, we don't have to blame pumpkin pie for being too familiar, nor must we say we got sick of pecan. We can love those pies and crave something new at the same time.
After years of experimenting with my family's palates and patience at the holidays, I've learned that new recipes are more than welcome when they accompany the old, and when they refresh that hard-to-capture holiday mood of being together. It's a feeling that's impossible to package and sell-though plenty of companies try-but easy as pie to make, especially if you do it by hand with the best fruit.
Driscoll's Berries asked me to reimagine holiday pies with the fresh crop of raspberries they harvest right around Thanksgiving, and it struck me as the perfect opportunity to do something bakers love: invent a favorite treat with a new taste, something that satisfies and signals tradition without leaning on flavors I'm so used to, I barely notice them anymore.
Raspberries, especially fresh ones, are like high-quality baking apples in that they offer us sweet and tart flavors to worth with. Their bright magenta juice is a welcome bright spot in the dessert buffet. But how could I take a fruit normally associated with summer and help it taste like the fall berry it now is?
The answer lies in the flavors that frame the raspberries: baking spices like cinnamon, savory herbs like bay, nuts and brown sugar to bring out the comforting warmth of this berry without dimming its intensity.
My recipe testing went in two directions. I wanted one pie to clearly borrow flavors from my Thanksgiving table, and I wanted another that paired with fall fruits and herbs in a fresh, surprising way.
Raspberry Pie with Walnut Crumble evolved from the first goal. I knew that walnuts would remind my family of other nutty holiday pies and put them in a Thanksgiving mood. I nixed oats-usually a tasty addition to a crumble-and reached for my bag of whole wheat pastry flour instead. That would enhance the toothsome, nutty flavor without reminding anyone too much of breakfast. Cinnamon would scent the crumble, but not overpower it. As for the filling, it was mostly fresh raspberries, and they wouldn't need much dressing up to be fabulous. I laced them with one cup of chopped cranberries to bring even more traditional Thanksgiving flavor into the mix, plus a full cup of sugar to ease the fruits' tartness into a subtle balance with sweet.
Raspberry Pie with Figs and Bay satisfied my second goal by completely surprising me. Fresh figs aren't what I usually think of to pair with berries, but they, like Driscoll's fresh raspberries, have another harvest in fall. This pie would capture that last freshness at its full affect. I'd been experimenting with fresh bay leaves and fruit for different fall jams, and found that bay can do for fruit exactly what it does for soups and stews: enhance flavor. First I tried baking the bay leaf in the pie. That was a disaster. The pie was medicinal in the middle, where the bay was, and plain at the edges. I took my next strategy from jam-making, macerating the fruit with sugar and bay for at least two hours, or overnight, then removing the bay leaf before pouring the filling into the pie shell to bake. The perfect amount of bay flavor doesn't taste strongly of bay. Rather, it works in the background to deepen the freshness of raspberries and figs.