July 5, 2011
Blueberries for Pie Day
Blueberries are summer. Tart but sweet juices bursting from their blue skins, a slight crunch of seeds. Wild blueberries are best. So tiny, they should be eaten by the handful. It takes more of them to make a pie, but it is worth it. One of the fields adjacent to my Dad's old new england farmhouse is full of their the low to the ground bushes. When I was young we would check the field for berries in July until there were enough to start filling containers. Sometimes they would end up in a batch of summer morning muffins, picked and tucked into batter before I came downstairs for breakfast.
At least once during the blueberry season, my Dad would declare that it was time to make a pie. It took a lot of picking to get enough. On trips out the the field, we would pick a cup full here, a bowl full there until, after a few days, there were enough berries to fill a shell of rolled out dough. Still warm from the oven, the pie was a treat, but it was even better after a night in the fridge. A cold slice of blueberry pie for breakfast was part of the ritual, too.
When I think of blueberries and summer, I also think of mornings in a rented lake house in western Maine. The smell of pine and a soft carpet of pine needles surrounding the house, making it easy to go barefoot. In the mornings I peer out the window, hoping to see the sun up to warm the lake and the dock where I will spend most of the day reading and dipping in the water. Sooner or later various family members gather in the kitchen for breakfast. When we first started vacationing there, it was my Mom, my step father and us five girls. Now there are husbands and children, too. Since we are always there in July, we make sure there are always pints and quarts of blueberries around. Brought from local farm stands, we eat them in pancakes, with yogurt or cereal, and by the handful.
At least once while we are there, we go for a hike before breakfast. Up a short trail through the woods frequented by mosquitos and patches of sun splashing through the trees. On the top of the very little mountain we scramble down the rock face to enjoy the view. There are scattered blueberry bushes clinging to what little soil they can find. Selfishly, we grab the few tiny fruits they make and greedily pop them in our mouths.
I'm not in Maine this summer. I have blueberries, though. They are the round, cultivated variety nearly the size of grapes with only a hint of tartness in their blueberry flavor. Still, they capture that summer flavor. We've been eating them in pancakes and muffins and in honor of summer and a pie party and thinking of my family far away enjoying wild blueberries and weeks at the lake I baked them into a pie.
I've often hoped for perfection when making pies, but I after making this pie, I realized that there is no need for a pie to be perfect. With butter, flour, sugar, fruit and some spices it is hard to go wrong. I know the crust can be frustrating and intimidating. My King Arthur Flour Cookbooks have long and detailed instructions for attaining crust perfection, but even if you have to scrape it off the counter, patch holes, or do a single crust instead of two, just fill it with fruit, bake and enjoy.
A few notes: I increased the original crust recipe (adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking) because my crusts always come out too small. Fortunately I had plenty of crust. You can use all whole wheat flour, just make sure you chill the dough overnight. For the filling, I add a little flour to thicken it slightly, but I don't cornstarch or any other thickeners. The filling will be juicy with berries. I made this vanilla ice cream to go with it.
Crust - makes enough for a 9 inch double crust pie (or maybe more than enough if your better at crust than I am)
2 cups (7 ounces) unbleached white flour
1 cup (5 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
15 tablespoons (7.5 ounces) cold unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) orange juice
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) ice water (or more as needed)
Mix the flours, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour with knives, a fork, a pastry cutter or your fingers. Break up the butter and combine it with the flour until most of the butter is combined with the flour but there are some large pieces, too. It will be unevenly crumbly, resembling a coarse meal with larger chunks. Sprinkle in the orange juice and gently toss the dough to distribute the liquid evenly. Add the water a tablespoon at a time until the dough is wet enough to come together in a ball. Press the dough together to get any remaining flour. Divide the dough in half, wrap each half in parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days (ideally overnight!).
When you are ready to make the pie, roll out one half of the dough. I usually roll my dough on parchment or a silpat to keep it from sticking. I flip it over often and dust it with a bit of flour. Try to keep the dough fairly circular and roll it until it is a couple inches larger all around than your 9-inch pie pan. If the dough is stuck to the parchment when you are done rolling, just flip the dough stuck tot the parchment over onto the pie plate and center the circle of dough on the plate before you peel off the parchment. Add the filling. Roll out the second crust and place it on top of the filling. Tuck both layers of dough on top of the edge of the pie plate. If there is a lot more dough than you need around the edges, you can trim it, but leave enough to make a pretty edge around the plate. Press the two layers of dough together and form a nice edge with your fingers or a fork. Cut slits in the top of the pie to let out the steam.
Blue Berry Filling
8 cups Blueberries
zest and juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 tablespoons butter
Mix the blueberries, lemon zest and juice, flour, sugar and nutmeg in a bowl. Stir gently so the blueberries don't get crushed and so that the sugar, flour, zest, juice and nutmeg are evenly distributed. Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust and place dots of the butter on top. Cover with the top crust and follow instructions above
Baking: Preheat the oven to 450' Bake the pie for 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 350' and bake for 15 more minutes. Let the pie cool for an hour or two before eating.