Marion Berry: Not the DC Mayor, the Oregon Pie

Not the mayor, the berry.

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

The 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

The Filling

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 cup granulated sugar

6 1/2 cups fresh or frozen Marionberries

Coarse white sparkling sugar

The Preparation

1. Combine dry ingredients in a stand mixer. Add butter and beat with paddle attachment on low speed, scraping bowl as needed, until pieces are raisin-size. With mixer still on low speed, drizzle in 1 tbsp. ice water; beat until pastry comes together, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes. Form 1 1/4 cups into a disk and the rest into a smaller disk.

2. Preheat oven to 375° with rack on bottom rung. On a lightly floured board, roll larger disk into a 12-in. circle. Loosen with a long metal spatula, gently roll around a rolling pin, then unroll into a 9-in. pie pan (if dough cracks, press back together). Fold edge under, so it’s flush with pan rim, then crimp. Chill 15 minutes.

3. Roll remaining dough into an 11-in. circle. With a cookie cutter, cut out enough shapes such as squares to cover most of pie. Set cutouts on a baking sheet; chill 15 minutes.

4. Stir together cornstarch and granulated sugar in a large bowl. Add berries with juices and toss to coat. Arrange evenly in pie shell. Lightly brush pastry cutouts with water and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Arrange cutouts over filling.

5. Bake pie until filling bubbles and pastry is golden in center, 55 to 60 minutes (up to 1 1/2 hours if berries were frozen); if edge starts to get dark, cover with foil, and if pie starts to bubble over, put a rimmed pan underneath it.

6. Let cool on a rack to room temperature, at least 3 hours.

Categories: Food, Regional Food, State Pies

Tags: , , , , , , ,

3 replies »

  1. How could I not comment? You are writing about my state and my favorite of all desserts – berry pie!

    While I love blackberries – many of us have favorite, never-to-be-divulged berry picking spots and look forward to cool, early mornings in mid to late August to visit them – Marionberries seem to be a more luxurious version, especially for pie. Even better, I hate to say, are Boysenberries, which are a cross between raspberries, blackberries and loganberries. Of course, these are truly California fruits and are made most famous by Knott’s Berry Farm.

    As far as berries, in general… I think Oregon has to win the prize all around – our strawberries are amazing, especially where I live in the Southern Willamette Valley, and when raspberry season comes along, well, there’s really nothing to do but sit in the sun and eat basket after basket of this fabulous fruit. Have you ever had an all raspberry pie? Nothing beats it! Except for, perhaps, raspberry cherry… or raspberry peach… or… Well, you get the idea.

    I have raspberries, marionberries, boysenberries and strawberries in my garden, and that secret blackberry patch is well within walking distance. Throughout the summer, breakfast always includes yogurt and some form of just-picked berry. It’s one of the bright spots of living here!

    As far as pie, I am one of only two in my house that likes it or, more correctly, LOVES – I am not sure what is wrong with everyone else. It makes it terribly difficult, not because I don’t make them, but because when I do, I can’t stand to see something so perfect go to waste. Perhaps that’s why my early svelteness has been somewhat reversed! It’s the pie! But, crust is as important as the filling. I’m forever devoted to the basic Crisco recipe… It’s not fancy, but it always works and it’s “just like mom’s”. I had a grandmother who used only lard. Needless to say, those were some excellent, if potentially deadly, pies.

    Well, I’ve gone on too long for a proper comment here. As you can see, I have a passion for pie!

    • Ah, all very quintessentially Oregonian of you – which is why I chose Marionberry and not Boysenberry, because I didn’t want to write about the best berry only the most Oregonian berry.

      As platitudinous corporatism quietly deteriorate regionalism (except for the South, everyone knows the South is the South and if they don’t, very soon someone from the South will point out what makes the South the South), I find that there’s a sort of quiet revolution waged by nature against idiotic human tidiness. Marionberries will not grow in Arizona. Cod will not swim in the Pacific. I still think that when things are nearly done, the dogs will save the planet. I never think of Oregon Strawberries. See? I’ve a lot to learn. And I have had all-raspberry pie – and it is better than any hybrid, but it was in Delaware. Did you know raspberries grow naturally in Delaware? Oregon is a sanctuary of sorts, all that water and the roses and the forests and beaches, but its such a diverse state. Somewhat like a Pacific New York maybe. Thanks for your thoughts kiddo. I too love Pie. It’s the crusts that kill. I used to type the name of the famous Chinese-American architect as I.I. Pei as I. M. Pie and I was teased as “I Am Pie” more for the love of pie than the error.

  2. I didn’t know that raspberries grew naturally in Delaware, but anywhere with a large raspberry presence is a place I want to be.

    Yes, Oregon is much beloved by many for the endless variety – mountains, coast, desert, skiing, fishing, boating… If you like the outdoors, it’s a wonderful place to spend some time. For me, it’s California that’s the refuge… Bright lights, big cities, lots of excitement. Although I could be stoned by fellow Oregonians for saying so, I actually prefer the California coast! Especially from Santa Cruz south. Nothing makes me happier than a leisurely trip starting with a few days in San Franciso, a lazy drive through Steinbeck Country and time in Carmel, and the remaining stretch right through LA. I get markedly happier and am completely content whenever I get to make that trip. I spend far too much time trying to generate ideas to make it happen. I even have to admit an addiction to Disneyland. So, I suppose I live in the wrong place!

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