Washington, D.C.’s imprisoned and re-elected mayor (1979-1991; 1995-1999) is Marion Barry. Oregon’s longish, glossy, purple fruit is the Marion Berry.
And that makes Marionberry Pie the unofficial though unchallenged State Pie of Oregon.
Found in profusion along Willamette Valley vines each spring until about July, the Marionberry was created as a hybrid of the small highly-flavorful Chehalem Berry and the fatter and faster-growing Ollalie Berry, in 1956, at Oregon State University‘s Agricultural Research and Development Program in Corvallis.
To Oregonians, each berry type is a matter of state pride, uniquely bred, cross-bred, cultivated, and harvested. Although it is the Berry Capital of the World because of its uniquely favorable climate of long, wet spring and early summer, hot days but cool nights, blackberries are grown all over the United States. Not quite so the Marionberry. Over 90 percent of all the world’s Marionberries are cultivated and harvested near Salem, Oregon.
Its developed a bit of a cult following among berry aficionados, prized for its trademark sweetness but lingering tartness. There’s a big-time mail-order business for the jams, jellies and syrups made from it and the University of Oregon football team has also sweetened recruitment offers by sending along baskets of Marionberries in all possible edible forms. A truly authentic Oregonian breakfast is the Tillamook brand of Marionberry Yoghurt – local dairy, native berry and state-healthy.
There seems to be a little bit more variety to how one makes it. Some Oregon State Fair prize-winners and restaurant recipes use a pre-baked shell and then pour in cooked-down berry filling; many, however, go traditional, like blueberry pie, with some cornstarch or flour to soak the juices, and a top crust that all gets baked at the same time. With its extremely rich berry flavor, one that seems especially popular uses more of a shortbread crust, with sugar and extra butter – but without a full top crust, using cutout squares of the pastry instead. The recipe below for Oregon Marionberry Pie in Sugar-Flaked Shortbread Crust is taken from a small restaurant in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains called Anjou’s. For impatient pie-lovers like me, however, the frozen Trader Joe’s crust is fine and faster.
Marionberries have a growing season that peaks in July, so they’re not easy to find around vegetable markets all over the country and all year round. They also come fresh-frozen in bags, at least they do in most supermarkets and grocery stores out West If you can’t find any Marionberries, or you just don’t have the time or patience to make it, you can often pick them up freshly-baked at Trader Joe’s.
Oregon Marionberry Pie in Sugar-Flaked Shortbread Crust
2 cups flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 2-tbsp. chunks
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup granulated sugar
6 1/2 cups fresh or frozen Marionberries
Coarse white sparkling sugar