Blueberry Pie

July 15, 2008

This was my very first blueberry pie. Isn’t it lovely?

(Anecdotal note: I was chastised, in jest, a while back, for claiming that something I prepared leaned heavily toward deserving the adjective delicious. But I’ve never had a problem saying that something I make is good. Likewise, I don’t hesitate to bring out such negative descriptors as bad, disappointing, or even disastrous. I suppose I, in some way, place a comfortable distance between myself and what I make — usually, because it’s not my original recipe, so I’m not to thank. Or, it’s entirely due to the quality of ingredients, which I didn’t create. I will allow, that in some cases, claiming the success of a food before your guests try it could set you up for failure. And maybe, in those cases, I should keep my mouth shut. But at the moment of note, I was declaring the utter fantastic-ness of mango sorbet and toasted coconut ice creams served together — and, on this note, I must claim complete objectivity. If anyone were to taste the combo and disagree, I would have to write off their tastebuds as insufficient.)

So, the pie. We picked blueberries a couple of weekends ago, the kids and I. On this adventure, I learned a few things:

  1. Picking a gallon of blueberries is nowhere near as easy as picking a gallon of strawberries.
  2. Two-year olds are not much help. And are, rather, a hindrance. Especially when they decide to eat a white-pink blueberry.
  3. Blueberry bushes are at exactly the wrong height for extended reaching when your body is clearly showing the signs of having entered your third trimester of pregnancy.
  4. There is a reason that the memory of picking blueberries at my grandmother’s house as a child has always included the tinge of general grumpiness.

Thanks to the help of a friend and her older children, we finally filled our bucket. I ended up with a few quart bags of frozen berries, and saved enough fresh to make a cobbler and this pie. I was (of course) inspired by the last issue of Cook’s Illustrated; if I was going to use 6 cups of hard-won fresh blueberries to make a pie, it was going to be this one.

And I think that it was near-perfect (ahem… if I do say so myself). A hefty dose of zest and juice gave it a wonderful lemony aroma and flavor, which kept it from being too sweet and one-dimensional. And the texture — made by using grated apple in place of part of the traditional measure of tapioca — held together enough to cut stable slices while not being close to gummy or gelatinous.

The crust, though. It was both flaky and tender. But the war that was waged in my kitchen for that crust — I don’t know if I can do it again. The recipe called for the ironically-named “Fool-proof pie dough” that Cook’s has published before. This was the first time I’d made it, and I guess that if this recipe is an official measure, I must now be called a fool. The process flies in the face of all pie-dough-making knowledge that I’ve acquired to this point. It was kind of like trying to drive backwards, or write with your left hand (if you are, like me, right-handed). The dough was made in a food processor, and that I’ve done before. But you actually allow the fat and flour to become fully, unapologetically incorporated. No pea-sized clumps here — this was a mass of cookie dough. And then, you stir in enough water and vodka to form a wet, soggy dough (the vodka keeps the dough from becoming tough, which is what you’re avoiding by overmixing when making a traditional crust). I kept repressing my doubt and confusion, trusting the author. But when it came time to roll out the dough, both my confidence and the expletives started to fly. It was impossible to roll and get into the pie pan without it falling apart. So I resorted to actually rolling both crusts twice each — which normally makes a pie crust turn into a thin hockey puck. I stuck it in the oven, cursed one last time for good measure, and hoped for the best.

And, I mean look at it. That crust gave me the bird. Outside of having the slightest hint of that shortening flavor (I prefer the flavor, while not the texture, of all-butter crusts), it was really right-on. The ideal encasement for 6 cups of freshly-baked blueberries. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

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