Raspberry Rendezvous

Claudette Sutton - October 20, 2009

A trip to Salman Raspberry Ranch in Mora

One day, Little Sal went with her mother to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries. "We will take our berries home and can them," said Little Sal's mother. "Then we will have food for the winter."

We make unlikely parallels, Charles and I, out there at the Salman Raspberry Ranch in Mora, to Little Sal and her mom, in Robert McCloskey's children's classic, "Blueberries for Sal." Eastern New Mexico doesn't share much geographically with the Maine woods, but that's us in spirit: a scruffy-haired girl in overalls and a mom in a prim cardigan and sensible shoes. Don't ask me which one's which. We're each a little bit Sal, happily munching berries as we wander along, and a little bit Sal's mother, steadily filling a basket with berries to take home.

Little Sal picked three berries and dropped them in her little tin pail . . . kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk!

We go to the Salman Ranch almost every year. When our schedule allows, and frosts don't hit too early, a trip to Mora for raspberries is part of our New Mexico fall routine. If summer is about seizing the moment - peas and greens fresh from the garden; spontaneous picnics or trip to the pool - fall is about facing the future. A Santa Fe winter may not be as rough as New England's, but it takes some bracing just the same. A freezer neatly stacked with zipper-bags of chile, a few bags of raspberries, maybe a peach pie or two, gives a feeling, no matter how fleeting, that all's well in the world.

It was that kind of comfort we were chasing as well as berries, after dropping our son Ariel at the Albuquerque airport a few weeks ago, for his junior year at a university in Spain. Though I couldn't have imagined this a few years ago, it's true: the shock of empty nest really does ebb after the first time or two. By this round, I even admit to a sprinkling of relief in the potpourri of emotions as we hugged goodbye at curbside check-in. Watching him walk off to his gate, I had a moment's panic that the passport sticking out of his sweatshirt pocket would fall out somewhere over the ocean . . . but it's his responsibility now. Charles and I have our lives to reclaim.

Rather than head straight back to Santa Fe, we took a detour out to Mora for raspberries. The morning chill was lifting as we arrived. This wasn't been the best year for raspberries, we heard; hail storms did some damage early in the season, and light frosts had already nipped some of the vines. But we got enough to fill three baskets, and a few Tremendous Mouthfuls along the way.

Little Sal and her mother drove home with food to can for next winter - a whole pail of blueberries and three more besides.

We drove the long way home over the mountains. The perfume of fresh berries wafted from the backseat of our car. Like Sal and her mom, we harvested not just food for the winter but a familiar, comforting act to guide us to the next page in our story.

I wish I could direct you to the Salman Ranch to pick your own berries, but their season ended with a hard frost soon after our visit. But if you've got another source for fresh raspberries, try this pie. It's magnificent fresh; it freezes well. If you're able to give it away, you're a better person than I.

Raspberry Pie, Me-oh-My
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Combine 1 cup white sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Add 4 cups raspberries; toss gently. Pour the berry mixture in an unbaked pie shell.

Drizzle over the berries a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice and 1/3 cup crème de cassis (optional; for a no-alcohol version, substitute blackberry syrup or jam.) Arrange three super-thin slices of lemon on top, and 2 tablespoons of sweet butter cut in small pieces. Top the pie with a lattice crust. Sprinkle with white sugar.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes or so until the crust is light brown and the filling bubbles.

Serves: 1 to 8.

Contact Claudette Sutton at claudette@sftumbleweeds.com.