Brambles are a lovely old-fashioned tartlike pastry with a filling of raisins, egg, lemon juice and rind, sugar, and sometimes crackers. It tastes a lot better than it sounds with the tartness of the lemon and richness of raisins.
Five of you helped out on this. Many thanks to Christie Gilfillen from Brewer, Evelyn Greene in Bangor, Donna Jones in Milo, Elaine Lowell in Prospect Harbor and Ruth Watson in Mount Desert who all kindly sent recipes. Evelyn sent two. And Donna’s recipe was for the other brambles: blackberry. When I was thinking brambles I wasn’t thinking about how raspberries and blackberries are called bramble fruits. I’ll save Donna’s yummy-sounding recipe and great dog story for summer when we have berries.
Meanwhile, it turns out that four of the recipes were very similar; in fact, there were two sets of identical recipes, one of which came from good old Marjorie Standish’s “Cooking Down East.” Christie’s recipe came from her grandmother who was born in 1884 and died in 1969. The ingredients in all the recipes were practically the same, but the directions yield three different kinds of brambles. Trying them out was fun, and our neighbors, the Wuoris, came over for the taste test.
Basically all you need is 1 cup of raisins, one lemon, one egg, 1 cup of sugar, milk and a cracker, plus pie crust dough. It strikes me that in the late 1800s the raisins, sugar, eggs, milk and crackers would have been on hand in a lot of homes. Once there were steamships traveling between the South, the Caribbean and New Eng-land, lemons were no longer a rarity. The addition of a lemon to the rest of these fairly homely ingredients made for a delicious little treat and one that we can have anytime these days. In fact, one of the recipes said to mix the ingredients and keep it in the fridge until you need it, which could be almost anytime you have a bit of leftover dough trimmed from a pie.
One of Evelyn’s recipes came from an old Rebekahs cookbook, and Elaine’s recipe was very similar. That recipe instructs us simply to mix the ingredients and make turnover-shaped pastries, presumably in any size you desire. I took the equivalent of one crust, rolled it into a rectangle and cut a dozen squares and folded them into little triangles with a tablespoon or so of filling in each. Even though I dampened the edges of the squares and further crimped them with a fork, I didn’t entirely trust them not to leak. So I baked them on parchment paper and, sure enough, a few oozed, and the paper saved me a sticky mess.
The Standish recipe calls first for grinding up the raisins, then cooking the mixture together. To make the brambles, she says to rolls out two crusts, spread the filling over one and then put the other on top, folding over the edges and crimping them. After they are baked, you cut the size square you prefer. It is a time-saving ap-proach for sure.
Christie’s gram’s recipe called for lining cupcake tin cups with pastry, putting in the raisins and then adding the lemon, egg and sugar mixture to make something like a tartlet. These had two eggs and no crackers.
I couldn’t bring myself to add milk to either of the recipes that called for it, and I think it would really depend on the crackers you use; if they absorbed a lot of moisture then the milk would loosen it up. But I thought it was loose enough as it was without the milk.
Crackers: What a problem these are. What we really need is the plain sort of cracker hardly ever made anymore. Times like this I really miss Crown Pilots. Use an unsalted cracker with as little shortening in it as you can find. Roll them very fine.
At taste-test time, the little turnover sort was the overall favorite. The Standish recipe has more filling in proportion to the pastry. It is very richly flavored and easier to make. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t choose. So I am going to give you the recipe for each. Invite someone over for tea to eat these dainties.
Yields up to 24 turnovers made from 3-inch squares.
1 cup raisins
1 lemon, grated rind and juice
1 cup sugar
2 plain crackers rolled very fine
¼ cup milk (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease a baking sheet very well or line with parchment paper. Mix all ingredients together; add milk if mixture is too stiff to drop from a spoon. Roll out pastry and cut into squares any size you choose. Drop a bit of the filling in the center, dampen the edges and fold over into triangles, then crimp along two sides with a fork. Arrange on baking sheet, prick the tops. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, checking after the first 10 minutes. Remove to rack to cool.
Marjorie Standish Bramble Squares
Yields about 20 2-inch squares.
Use the same ingredient list as above except use only 1 tablespoon cracker crumbs.
Grind raisins through a chopper or in a food processor. Mix with other ingredients and cook until thickened. Let cool.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a baking sheet. Roll out pastry to make two 12-inch-by-8-inch rectangles. Lay one on the baking sheet and spread the cooled filling over it to within an inch of the edge. Lay the other pastry rectangle on top, and fold the bottom one up and over the top. Crimp all around with a fork. Score the top into squares with a sharp knife but don’t cut through. Prick in the center of each square. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle.
Cut the bramble squares through the pastry and set on a rack to finish cooling.
Yields up to 24 tartlets depending on the size of your pans.
½ cup raisins (or more to taste)
1 lemon, grated rind and juice
1 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line the cups of two cupcake pans with pastry. Sprinkle a few raisins in each, more to taste. Mix together eggs, sugar, lemon peel and rind and add it to the cups dividing equally. Bake for 15-20 minutes, checking after the first 10. Mixture should be set. Cool and remove to a rack to finish cooling.
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