Summer cooking: raspberries

Up in Western New York, where my mother's from, people grow purple raspberries. These are a cross between red raspberries and black raspberries (black raspberries themselves being a cross between red raspberries and blackberries). Purple raspberries make, quite simply, the best pie on earth. Indeed, if I had to pick one food to live on for the rest of my life, it would be purple raspberry pie. And I don't have much of a sweet tooth.

Sadly, purple raspberries don't travel well, so the only way to get them is to live quite close to a farm that's growing them. So I've been experimenting with ways to get something close to that flavor.

I haven't managed to quite crack it--but I have produced an exceptionally delicious pie using 2.5 cups of red raspberries to 1.5 cups of blackberries. Remember, kids, unless you're picking them up at a farm stand, always use frozen--unlike the berries in the supermarket, frozen berries were picked ripe and flash frozen immediately, which will give you superior results to all but the very freshest local produce. 7/8 of a cup of sugar, a few tablespoons of flour, a sprinkle of cinnamon, put it in a pie crust, and if you're feeling decadent, dot the top with butter or margarine. Summer eating just doesn't get much better than that.

Incidentally, almost any basic pie crust recipe can be veganized with Crisco, which doesn't quite have as much flavor as butter, but produces a much flakier, finer textured product. I never buy pie crust--if you really don't want to fuss with it, I vote for making an impromptu strudel out of frozen puff pastry sheets or phyllo, which are really quite decent. Sadly, the same cannot be said of store bought pie crust. If you're afraid to make one, the important thing to remember is this: your first pie crust is going to be awful. It will fail to hold together, be too thick or too thin, and almost certainly not resemble anything like the perfect circle so lovingly pictured in your cookbook. That's all right. It will still taste better than your store bought pie crust. And four or five crusts later, you'll have gotten the knack of it, and friends will be swooning over your homemade pies.

An even easier way to do berry tarts is to bake up some of those frozen Pepperidge Farm puff pastry shells. Boil down a bag of frozen mixed berries with about half a cup of sugar until it forms a moderately thick sauce. (This is not an exact science: pick the thickness you like, keeping in mind that it will thicken as it cools.) Then fill the shells with a layer of the sauce or some lemon curd, a layer of fresh berries, and another layer of sauce. Add whipped topping if you roll that way. Super easy and really, really lovely to eat.