I get really excited when I see berries growing on the side of the road. I inherited this obsession from my mother who, during our vacation each summer in northern Idaho, would go on a walk with a big bag and not allow herself to return until she had picked a thousand huckleberries. We'd make dozens of jars of jam, huckleberry pancakes, and frozen kiddie drinks. I don't remember us ever looking at a recipe.
I spent the last week on the northern California coast with family and friends where, much to my delight, I found no end of wild huckleberries, blackberries, and mulberries growing in every ditch and on every hilltop. We all went to a local thrift store and bought $1 baskets to keep in the car, just in case. Right away I realized I'd be applying berries to every meal.
On the first of ten nights, our house cocktail became a huckleberry gin and tonic; mulberries were a surprise treat woven into just about any dish; and dessert almost always featured a buttery berry treat, most often blackberries and pastry.
Being near some small family-owned dairies meant good butter at our fingertips. Making these tarts reminded me that knowing how to make a great dessert out of foraged fruit is a handy skill to have in your back pocket, especially as the summer comes to a close and the sides of the road are brimming with berries.
This is one to memorize. You never know when you might need it.
Foraged Berry TartMakes one 9-inch tart
For the pastry:
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon loosely packed freshly grated lemon zest
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
4 tablespoons ice water, plus more as needed
For the filling:
1/2 cups sugar (more or less depending on sweetness of berries)
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 cups berries (blackberries, huckleberries, boysenberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc.)
1 teaspoons loosely packed freshly grated lemon zest
To prepare the pastry, pulse the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add the lemon zest and butter, pulsing until the mixture resembles a coarse, sandy meal. With the motor running, gradually add the water, processing until moist clumps form that just barely hold together if you pick up a handful. Add a teaspoon more ice water if necessary. Take care not to over-blend.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gather it into a ball until it just holds together. Place it in the center of a sheet of plastic wrap and press it down into a disk about 1 1/2 inches thick. Wrap the dough in the plastic wrap, pressing together any cracks that formed around the edges. Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour, or up to four days. You can also freeze the dough and thaw it in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours before using.
Take the dough out of the refrigerator 10 minutes to rest at room temperature before rolling it out.
Set an oven rack to the middle position, and preheat the oven to 400°F.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 11-inch circle. Gently transfer the dough to a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan, pressing the dough into the fluted edge. Roll the rolling pin over the rim to trim off any overhanging dough and work around the edge of the tart to make a neat edge. Prick the bottom with a fork.
Place the tart pan in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Line the dough with parchment paper, add pie weights or dried beans, and bake until the crust begins to darken, about 25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and remove the tart shell. Remove the parchment and weights.
If using strawberries, hull them. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch. Add 2 cups of the berries and the lemon zest, mashing roughly so that some of the berries dissolve into the sugar mixture. Pour this mixture into the tart shell, then top with the remaining cup of berries.
Place the tart on a baking sheet and bake until the mixture is bubbling, 25-30 minutes. If the shell start to brown too deeply, cover it loosely with foil. Remove from the oven and allow the tart to cool slightly or completely before serving.
Serve with sour creme, whipped creme, or crème fraîche.
Related: Foraged Fruit: Mulberries Galore!
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)