Beloved was the first Toni Morrison Novel I ever read. My favorite English teacher assigned it my senior year of high school and I was so floored by it I stayed up all night reading. Years later (how many I won’t admit) I am still stunned at Morrison’s ability to weave beautiful stories from horrific and tragic events, without skimping on any of the visceral details. Another thing I love about Morrison’s novels are their use of food. They are full of cooking and eating and starving and gorging, but even when Morrison isn’t writing directly about food her prose has an intoxicating richness to it akin to spooning through a thick custard. Even the names fill your mouth and leave it watering—Baby Suggs and Sethe and Sixo. I often find while reading her prose that I get so caught up in the voluptuousness of the language I end up losing the plot thread and having to re-read.
When I walked into my grocery store yesterday and saw a mountainous display of the most beautiful blackberries, all shiny and indigo and reeking of tart sweetness, I was immediately reminded of a scene in Beloved that has stuck with me all these years.
It was Stamp Paid who started it. Twenty days after Sethe got to 124 he came by and looked at the baby he had tied up in his nephews jacket, looked at the mother he had handed a piece of fried eel and for some private reason of his own, went off with two buckets to a place near the river’s edge that only he knew about where blackberries grew, tasting so good and happy that to eat them was like being in church. Just one of the berries and you felt anointed.
He walked six miles to the riverbank; did a slide-run down into a ravine made almost inaccessible by brush. He reached through the brambles lined with blood-drawing thorns thick as knives that cut through his shirt sleeves and trousers. All the while suffering mosquitoes, bees, hornets, wasps and the meanest lady spiders in the state.
Scratched, raked and bitten, he maneuvered through and took hold of each berry with his fingertips so gentle not a single one was bruised. Late in the afternoon he got back to 124 and put two full buckets down on the porch. When Baby Suggs saw his shredded clothes, bleeding hands, welted face and neck she sat down laughing out loud.
Buglar, Howard, the woman in the bonnet and Sethe came to look and then laughed along with Baby Suggs at the sight of the sly, steely old black man: agent, fisherman, boatman, tracker, savior, spy, standing in broad daylight whipped finally by two pails of blackberries.
Paying them no mind he took a berry and put it in the three-week-old Denver’s mouth. The women shrieked.
“She’s too little for that, Stamp.”
“Bowels be soup.”
“Sickify her stomach.”
But the baby’s thrilled eyes and smacking lips made them follow suit, sampling one at a time the berries that tasted like church. Finally Baby Suggs slapped the boys’ hands away from the bucket and sent Stamp around to the pump to rinse himself. She had decided to do something with the fruit worthy of the man’s labor and his love.
That’s how it began. (159-161)
Blackberry Tart Recipe:
Most of the tart recipes I found called for a layer of custard, but the blackberries I found were so beautiful I wanted them to stand all on their own. The crust takes a little bit of fussing but it’s worth it, especially since the filling is so simple. The result is a crisp and lightly sweet buttery crust filled with tart and outrageously juicy, plump berries. Just one bite and you’ll feel anointed (especially if served with ice cream).
Crust: (Smitten Kitchen’s great unshrinkable sweet tart crust–lifted word-for-word from the site. NOTE: I did not have a fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and a 9 inch glass pie dish worked just fine for me)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
1. Pulse the flour, sugar and salt together in the bowl of a food processor. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. (You’re looking for some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas.) Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses–about 10 seconds each–until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change–heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing. Chill the dough, wrapped in plastic, for about 2 hours before rolling.
2. To roll the dough: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out chilled dough on floured sheet of parchment paper to 12-inch round, lifting and turning dough occasionally to free from paper. (Alternately, you can roll this out between two pieces of plastic, though flour the dough a bit anyway.) Using paper as aid, turn dough into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom; peel off paper. Seal any cracks in dough. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with fork.
3. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
4. To fully or partially bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil (or use nonstick foil) and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. And here is the very best part: Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 20 to 25 minutes.
5. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake the crust about 10 minutes longer to fully bake it, or until it is firm and golden brown, brown being the important word: a pale crust doesn’t have a lot of flavor. (To partially bake it, only an additional 5 minutes is needed.) Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature, and proceed with the rest of your recipe.
48 oz. (3 lbs) blackberries
½ a lemon
½ cup sugar
Yup, that’s all!
Put about a cup of the blackberries into a medium-sized sauce pan and add a quarter cup of sugar and two teaspoons of lemon juice. Stir the mixture over medium heat. Mixture will start to bubble. Crush the berries until a nice pulp is formed and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a heat-safe bowl and let cool in the refrigerator.
When your pie crust is baked spread this mixture onto the pie crust. Pile the berries into the crust and sprinkle with the rest of the sugar and lemon juice. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes.
Serve with ice cream. Swoon.