biscuits and jam; a southern tradition

baking a cake to take to the garden each sunday morning can get a little boring.  every now and then, i make something different.  soda bread, scones, muffins, whatever; anything but a cake will be fine for those days.  when the blackberries in the garden were at their peak, i picked six pounds in one morning.  after taking them home, i cooked up a batch of blackberry jam.  fresh jam meant i would need biscuits, lots of biscuits to take to the garden in the morning.
biscuits have always been a favorite of mine, specifically yankee biscuits.  crispy and flaky on top, they practically beg you to slather them with butter.  yankee biscuits are made by cutting cold butter or shortening into the flour and baking powder.  keep in mind that the flour is not self rising, you would be hard pressed to find it up north.  the dough is patted out so that it is at least as thick as your fingers and then cut.  when they bake, they rise up and the flaky layers almost looked stacked on top of each other.

cut the butter into cubes and keep it chilled until needed.  cold fat is not as likely to smear or melt into the dough during mixing and shaping.  lots of little lumps of butter mean lots of flaky layers after they are baked.

the dough is easy to make and does not require much equipment.  an old fashioned pastry blender is perfect for getting the butter cut to the size of small peas.

pat it out, don’t roll it out.  the less your dough gets worked, the more tender and flaky it is.  judge the thickness by laying your fingers next to the dough; it should be at least as thick as your fingers for tall biscuits.

everything i used to make biscuits-no special equipment needed!
almost ready for the oven
a little brush of butter and in they go

hot out of the oven!
buttermilk biscuits
makes about 16-2 1/2 inch biscuits
3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes (plus more for brushing)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
preheat the oven to 425.  line a baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.  place the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a shallow bowl with a flat bottom and stir to combine.  sprinkle the butter cubes over the top of the flour and using a pastry blender, two knives(or forks) or your fingers, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it is a little smaller than peas.  pour the buttermilk over the mixture and stir until it comes together.  place the dough on a well floured work space and knead it a few times to make it more manageable-use plenty of flour to prevent sticking.  gently pat the flour out until it is as thick as your fingers or a little thicker and cut with a round cutter.  place the biscuits on the prepared pan, brush with a little melted butter and bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes.  serve immediately.
we enjoyed these immensely with a lot of soft butter and fresh blackberry jam.  

in the garden with cake and the first lady of tennessee; blackberry cornbread buckle

so many things say summer, but few do it as well as freshly picked blackberries.  in the south, blackberries aren’t hard to find.  they grow wild in urban areas as well as rural.  luckily for me, i work in a demonstration garden that has several large bushes.  on one warm sunday morning, i picked 6 pounds of them.

and just as you would expect, there is no shortage of recipes to use blackberries in.  my first task was to cook up a batch of jam.  it was easy to do and it only required two ingredients; blackberries and sugar.  i kept a few back to use in cakes and the like and i am glad i did.  on a recent morning, i had the opportunity to show off the demonstration garden to the first lady of tennessee.

mrs. haslam is busy with the installation of an heirloom vegetable, herb and cutting garden at the executive residence in nashville.  she came out to the demo garden to learn about alternative methods of planting and to see the many plants suitable for our area.  in this photo, i am explaining the keyhole garden, our latest experiment in the garden.

we toured the herb garden which was constructed completely out of found objects and the beds were filled using a lasagna gardening technique.

our herb garden has many culinary, medicinal and pot pourri herbs as well as a few edible flowers and some herbal tea plants.

the garden is a labor of love (or insanity-you choose) for me.  it is where i go every sunday morning.  the chance to share it with others is an honor.

my two favorite gardeners were with me, shirley (not in the photo) and ty ann.  without either of them and their hard work, the garden would not be nearly as beautiful as it is.  and where ty ann goes, so goes bella, the garden mascot!

and any morning spent in the garden means cake.  in honor of the first lady’s visit, i baked up a blackberry cornbread buckle with some of the berries i had picked.  to see the full recipe, visit

summer berry pie, #38 of 52 pies

in what is quickly becoming a never ending game of catch-up, i am trying to get all of the pies posted…wish me luck, please!!!

on that note, i also found myself trying to keep the pie simple.  that is not hard to do when berries are in season.  a quick trip to the store and i had plenty of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries to make a pie that was as delicious as it was easy to prepare.  by not stressing over the crust and just folding it in towards the center, the result was similar to a rustic galette but with a lot more fruit.  one more note, if you find yourself with frozen berries (whether you picked them or bought them), go ahead and use them in this recipe.  measure the fruit while it is still frozen and then let it thaw before using it-frozen fruit will drastically increase the necessary baking time and can mean a burned crust.

summer berry pie
1 (9″) pie serving 8
pie dough for a single (9″) pie shell
2 cups blueberries
1 cup blackberries
1 cup raspberries
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons rosewater
crystal sugar
preheat the oven to 350.  roll out the pie crust so that is it about 1-1/2 to 2 inches larger than needed to line the pie plate.  place the crust into the plate and allow the excess to hang over the edge.  combine the berries in a bowl.  in a separate bowl, rub the sugar, cornstarch and lemon zest together with your fingers and completely combine them.  toss the berries with the sugar mixture taking care not to mash them and then scrape the filling into the pie shell.  gently lift the excess dough up and drape it on top of the fruit pleating it as needed to make it fit.  sprinkle crystal sugar over the pie crust and bake until it is bubbly in the center, about an hour and 15 minutes.
as most berry pies are, this will be runny while it is hot.  be sure to let it cool to room temp before trying to cut it.  and as always, bake one and send me a photo i will post it here.

black and blue rhubarb pie, #28 of 52 pies

there is something special about a freshly baked berry pie.  a little sweet-a little tart and a deep rosy hue that draws the eyes, makes the mouth water and has the hands reaching for a knife and plate.  trying to develop an original recipe is a challenge on it’s own but when you limit the categories to one and complete the task weekly…well, let’s just say this isn’t always as easy as it should be.  add a family that isn’t always receptive to the chosen flavors and you can end up repeating the theme easily.  those of you who have followed this endeavor will no doubt find yourselves saying “hmm, she already used that ingredient” and you would be right!  my husband loves fruit pies as long as they aren’t peach (go figure) and when i was pondering the choice of fruits, he wanted rhubarb.  since he will likely eat most of it, i decided to indulge him and make a rhubarb pie but rather than pair it with strawberries (as well as raspberries which i did for #18), i chose to go with blueberries and blackberries since they are both coming into season in the garden.

since not everyone has a freshly picked supply of blueberries and blackberries, buy them fresh or frozen.  you will need a total of 3 cups of berries which is a pound.  using frozen berries will make it possible to serve this pie even when the berries are not in season.

i am hoping to get some rhubarb crowns into the garden so i can harvest my own stalks.  believe it or not, my local supermarket has bags of sliced rhubarb available with the frozen fruits which means we can have a rhubarb pie anytime!  using purchased pie dough will save some time but for those of you not willing to compromise, make enough dough for a double crust pie using your favorite recipe or this one from pie #18

black and blue rhubarb pie
 1 (9″) lattice topped pie serving 8-10

dough for a double crust, 9″ pie
1 to 1 1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
zest of 1 orange or 3 mandarins (i chose mandarins!)
1 1/2 teaspoons apple pie spice (or cinnamon if you do not have any)

1 pound berries, about 3 full cups of blackberries and blueberries
1 pound of rhubarb slices, about 3 full cups

preheat the oven to 350.  grease a sturdy baking sheet, line it with parchment or foil and grease that as well.  line the greased pie plate with the bottom crust.  a whole lot of greasing going on?  this makes a sticky pie if the juices spill over during the baking and it will not be easy to remove from the baking sheet without the grease!  trim the excess dough so that only about 3/4″ of dough hangs over the edge.  roll the excess dough under and flute the edges.  place the prepared pie crust on the baking sheet.

in a large bowl, rub the sugar, cornstarch, zest and spice together.  add the fruit and toss together.  scrape the filling into the pie crust and top it all off with lattice strips.  sprinkle some coarse sugar crystals over the strips and bake until it boils in the center, about 1 hour 15 minutes.   let it cool completely, about 4-6 hours, before cutting or you will have a never ending pie; no matter how many slices you cut, the filling runs out and fills the plate again!

so go forth in the world and bake a pie.  send me a photo and i will post it here!