Food

The Parable of the Purple Raspberry Pie

Scarcity is the secret ingredient.

Heaven.

Photographer: Peter Suderman

I don’t like to brag, but I haven’t had a slice of purple raspberry pie today.

Normally, this is not a brag, but a tragic summation of life’s bittersweet realities. On the one hand, this past week the universe provided us with purple raspberries, which, when baked between two pastry crusts, become the most perfect foodstuff known to man. Firmer and less sweet than the red raspberry, less aggressively tangy than its cousins in the blackberry family, it has a subtle perfection that no other berry pie can match. I cannot claim to know much about heaven, but I can be sure of one thing: if there is such a place, purple raspberry pie will be on the menu every day.

On the other hand, while the universe has provided, it has not provided adequately. The purple raspberry is unsuited to commercial cultivation, because it is not a good traveler. You eat purple raspberries close to where they are grown, or you do not eat them at all. Thus, this sublime creation is available only a few weeks out of the year, and only if you -- lucky creature! -- happen to know someone with a purple raspberry bush.

I was lucky enough to know such a person in my childhood: My grandfather, who having spent the first half of his life fighting his way off of the dirt farm on which he was raised, decided at the age of 50 to go into gardening on an Olympic scale. In July every year, my family drove to upstate New York to visit my grandparents, and we picked fruit, and preserved it, and had purple raspberry pie every night. To this fact, I attribute my basically sunny disposition.

But herein lies the tragedy: Having known purple raspberries, I knew what I lost when I could no longer have them. My grandfather’s garden is no longer, and I live in Washington DC, even farther from upstate New York than the city where I grew up. I haven’t had purple raspberry pie in close on a decade, and yet it remains, most decidedly, my favorite food in the world. So when I discovered two pints of purple raspberries at our local farmer’s market on Sunday -- well, I believe I mentioned heaven? Yes, I see I did. There we are. Heaven.

My mother made them into a pie yesterday, and I ate a big slice, and then I ate a little slice, and then someone -- I am naming no names -- may have licked the plate to ensure that none of our precious purple raspberries were wasted on the dishwasher. My mother earned a shining place of honor in the annals of motherhood by leaving the rest of the pie with me. Which I have saved for after dinner like a sensible adult, and not devoured in its entirety, even though it is haunting me, calling to me from the kitchen.

Yet already I am contemplating its end. There are three quarters of a pie left, which can, at most, be stretched for six more days. After that … perhaps there will be more purple raspberries at the farmer’s market this weekend. But even so, that will last just a few short weeks, and who knows if they will have them next year?

But then, perhaps this is part of what makes purple raspberry pie such sweet perfection. When I moved to Washington from New York City, I missed a lot of foods -- bagels, pizza, decent Chinese food. I yearned for those things too. On any jaunt to New York, I gorged myself on them even when I wasn’t particularly hungry, because who knew when I’d be able to get them again?

Over the years, the local market started to supply those favorites; we got a credible New York-style pizza place, Washington’s first acceptable bagels, and better Szechuan food than I’d been able to enjoy back home. Now that I can enjoy all those things at will, procuring them no longer seems so urgent; I can let months pass between visits to one of these eateries, and when I do visit, I eat reasonable amounts.

Social science research tells us that much of the pleasure in a vacation isn’t in the going but in the anticipation. And isn’t something similar true of food? Hunger may be the best sauce, but it is closely followed by specialness -- hence the mania for the elusive cronut, the rare spirit, the hard-to-get reservation for which you pore over the menu for a month before you actually sit down and take fork in hand.

I think I want purple raspberries to be available everywhere and all the time. But on further reflection, if they were, maybe those everyday pies wouldn’t be quite as tasty as the almost-never ones.

On even further reflection, however: Universe? If you’re listening, I’m willing to take that chance.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net

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