When summer blackberries and blueberries arrive in the mountains, well, it’s a signal that summer is really here. If you didn’t know from the heat and the lines in front of the Creamery, you surely know summer is here when berries come into season.
Berries used to grow wild in vacant lots and along fences, and you had to brave the chiggers to wander into those weeds to pluck wild blackberries. You can still find them, but most of the berries we are eating here in the Smokies are grown by local farmers.
A great way to use them is this easy pie called a crisp. No crust is needed. You just pile the fruit and sugar into a baking dish or iron skillet, and then top with a crumbly mixture of oats, flour, sugar, and butter. It bakes up into a heavenly rite of summer passage – something to enjoy with vanilla ice cream.
An old-fashioned favorite, using fresh berries and fruits of the season.
1 teaspoon soft butter for greasing the skillet
4 cups fresh blackberries
3 cups sliced fresh peaches
⅓ cup sugar
1½ cups light brown sugar
1½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1 cup Old Mill Thick Table Rolled Oats
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Rub a 12-inch cast iron skillet with the butter. Toss the fruit with the sugar to combine, and turn the fruit into the skillet. Set aside.
Make the topping: Place the brown sugar, flour, salt, and cinnamon in a mixing bowl and stir. Scatter the butter over the top and cut into the dry ingredients with two dinner knifes until it forms coarse crumbs. Fold in the oats. With your hands, crumble this mixture over the top of the fruit. Place the pan in the oven.
Bake until the topping is golden brown, and the fruit mixture is bubbly, about 40 to 45 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Here at The Old Mill, we take canning seriously. It’s a craft well known in the mountains, for it was the way we preserved one season to the next. In our kitchens, John Wethington keeps the craft alive by creating small batches of berry jams and preserves for us. He cans about 40 jars at a time.
Made with strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries grown by local farmers, these jams are made the old-fashioned way. Which is how John learned to make them. He learned how to skim off the impurities that turn to foam when the jam is cooking, and how long to boil down the jam so it sets. “It’s time-consuming, but I enjoy it,” says John.
For the Old Mill Heritage Line of jams, jellies, and preserves sold at the Old Mill, the fruit comes from local growers. Blackberries, elderberries, and muscadine are just a few of the ingredients that go into John’s jams. It’s a way for us to share a taste of the mountains with you, and it’s a way for The Old Mill to support local farming. Farmers in nearby Madisonville, Maryville, and Greenville, TN, are contracted by the Old Mill to grow fruits and berries.
John works his craft out of the Farmhouse Kitchen and the Candy Kitchen depending on which jelly or jam he is making, and for which line. Come see him! During summertime, when peak berry season has arrived, John makes plenty of Triple Berry Jam, The Old Mill’s best-seller. He makes about four batches a day, or about 750 jars a week to keep up with the summer demand. He also makes gallons of the Triple Berry Jam for the Old Mill Restaurant to serve to every table at breakfast, seven days a week. Strawberry is typically the first berry we get in each season, and for a limited time, it is being sampled at breakfast too.