Foraging for Berries at Mid-Summer

It’s been a year since I was walking among hedgerows loaded with unripe blackberries. No matter where I ventured, from Cornwall to the Isle of Man to Scotland, I could not help regretting the fact that when those bushels of berries ripened, I would no longer be there to eat them. To add misery, I knew that although the hedgerow berries throughout the British Isles were not yet ripe, the profusion of ones that grow wild in the parks and stream-ways close to my home in Kansas were ripe--but I was not around to forage them, either.

                                     Looking down on the hedgerows of Launceston, Cornwall

Foraging is my favorite outdoor activity. I take pleasure in seeking out wild edibles, knowing where to go for the goosefoot, cherries, garlic shoots, strawberries, gooseberries, black walnuts, mulberries, and blackberries. For one thing, foraging makes exercise more interesting, and for another, the collected goodies add variety to my diet.

Over this past week, setting out everyday with my collecting jar, I have picked black raspberries at dawn or dusk. They ripen quickly, but they do not all ripen at once, thus necessitating multiple returns to the brambles in my vicinity. By Friday, I had enough for a pie and for next week a crumble.

But what sort of pie? I went to my cookbook shelves and pulled by chance The New Laurel’s Kitchen, a classic vegetarian, natural-foods cookbook published in the 1970s and updated in '80s. When I turned to the index and found “Yogurt Cheese Pie”, I was intrigued.

The recipe struck me as both simple and genius. The authors call it an “innocent dessert,” and with good reason: it’s less fattening than a cheesecake with the bonus of more calcium. Simply take 2 cups of plain strained yogurt (readily available now in the States as Greek yogurt), ⅓ cup of honey, the zest of one lemon, and 1 ½ teaspoons of vanilla extract. Gently blend it together, scoop the yogurt filling into a pre-baked pie shell (graham cracker in my case), top with 2 cups of fresh berries, and chill.

I thought, however, that my 2 cups’ worth of berries would benefit from being made into a compote because they were quite tart. I put them in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch (cornflour), ⅓ cup of sugar, and enough water to make slurry. When it came to a simmer, I let it alone for five minutes to allow the cornstarch to thicken and cook, and sure enough, the result was a lovely topping for my yogurt cheese pie.

If you make this recipe yourself, remember to allow the cooked berries to cool before topping the yogurt filling. Ensure that your yogurt is well-drained, even if it's Greek yogurt. The pie itself should chill at least a couple of hours to meld the flavors before serving.

                                               My yogurt-cheese pie with wild berry topping

Kansas heat and humidity call for these “ice-box” desserts, and berry yogurt cheese pie will now be a regular on my summer dinner table. It can just as easily be topped with fresh strawberries or peaches, or a gooseberry or strawberry-rhubarb compote.

Happy Summer Solstice, Everyone!


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