Mary Mack's Wild Blackberry Cobbler

Mary Mack's Wild Blackberry Cobbler

My mother has always been a "country cook." She proudly admits to following the Facebook page feed of Brenda Gantt and to watching Pioneer Woman re-runs on the Food Network. As far as I'm concerned, it's Mama who could teach these food influencers a few things. My sister and I have always been the beneficiaries of Mama's magic in the kitchen, and now my whole family is lucky to have her cook for us on most every holiday. This weekend will be no exception. We've requested she make her famous blackberry cobbler as we gather in Sewanee to celebrate the 4th.

When we were little, my sister and I loved going to our grandmother's house in Kosckiusco, Mississippi, (named for the Polish General of Revolutionary War fame), where we'd be driven out on country roads in search of blackberry thickets so Mama could whip up her beloved cobbler. My grandmother - not much of a cook - had a spirit of adventure, so while Mama stayed back preparing the crust, Nanny would take us in search of what she called "rabbit holes," dirt roads lined with Queen Anne's lace and black-eyed susans and - if we were lucky - blackberry bushes. She taught us to leave the small pink berries behind and to choose only the darkest black. We marveled at the difference between the roadside variety of fruit and the huge berries we bought at the store. When we popped them in our mouths, there was a sweet burst followed by a tartness that made us close our eyes tight until the bitterness passed. "Perfect for a cobbler, Nanny would say." 

I've made Mama's cobbler many times since those days, and most always with grocery-store blackberries. But sometimes the conditions were right for finding wild berries. When my own children were little, we'd comb the backroads of Sewanee looking for bushes just like my grandmother taught me. If we were lucky enough to find enough wild berries to fill a collander, we'd head home to show Mama our haul. Then she'd mix it into a tangy, sweet, sour and salty concoction that defines the perfect summer cobbler.


Place the flour, salt, and shortening in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until the

For the Crust
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. salt
¾ cup Crisco shortening, chilled
¼ cup ice water

Place the flour, salt, and shortening in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas. (You can also do this in a mixing bowl with a pastry blender or a pair of forks.) Add about half of the ice water and pulse until the mixture comes together. If it’s still crumbly, add the rest of the water, but be super careful not to overblend. Remove the dough to a floured surface. Gather up about a quarter of the mixture and shape quickly into a small round. Shape the remaining mixture into a slightly bigger round, and wrap both in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

For the Filling
4 cups blackberries
2 cups sugar (or less if berries are very sweet)
1 T all-purpose flour
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 T (½ stick) salted butter, cut into thin slices

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix the berries, sugar, and flour in a large bowl. Toss in the vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Remove the small pastry round from the refrigerator and cut the dough into ½-inch-wide strips, about 2 inches long. Toss with the berries. Place the berry mixture in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (or an oval one of approximate dimensions). Dot with the butter. Remove the remaining pastry round from the refrigerator and place it on a floured surface. Roll it out into a rectangle large enough to cover the baking dish. Place the sheet on top of the berry mixture, tuck in the edges, and cut steam vents in a decorative pattern. Place the baking dish on a baking sheet to catch any overflowing juices. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the cobbler is bubbly and the crust is golden. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.


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