I want to get this out there while there are still blueberries on the bushes. A couple of weeks ago, we went blueberry picking with my husband’s father, sister, and our two little nieces, at Versluis Orchards near Grand Rapids, MI. The pictures pretty much tell the rest of the story. The blueberries were gorgeous, as well as delicious, and I found myself picking like mad, but leaving some of the most photogenic branches until the clouds cooperated for good lighting. At which point I’d grab my camera, and (with a pang for the blueberries not filling my bucket during the moments of shooting) do my best to capture the lovely morsels, in all their shades from translucent green to lavender blue. Then I’d force myself to grab the ripest ones from the shot and drop them in the bucket.
Even with two youngsters in tow, we managed to pick a LOT of berries, about 10 pounds between us all. They were astoundingly cheap compared to what you would pay at the grocery store, or even at a farm stand. By way of something to think about, I’ll point out that these berries weren’t organic, although they were about as local to our location at the time as you could get. And totally scrumptious. There was a good essay on The Yellow House last week about how it’s not as simple as just choosing something labeled “local” or “organic,” and I agree 100%, although I think that either of those, especially local, are a great place to start. My next step may be to ask more questions of the farmers, find out what are their thoughts about their practices. I’m pretty shy by nature, but I’ll try to make that happen.
Anyway, there are so many good recipes out there that have blueberries in them (as the older niece pointed out) that it seems almost needless to include one here, but I will anyway. It’s pretty simple, even if you don’t make pie often and/or have little ones sticking their fingers in your crust, it will turn out fine. The five of us adults handily polished off the whole pie after dinner . . . it can’t have been that bad.
(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)
For the crust:
You’ll need 2 1/4 cups of flour. You can vary the percentage of whole wheat flour up to 100%, which is my personal favorite. Since there were kids who might eat this pie too, I used 1 cup whole wheat, 1 1/4 white flour.
Put the flour in a bowl and add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp sugar
Take 1 stick unsalted butter, cold from the fridge. Cut it into pieces of about 1 tablespoon each. You want to mix it into the flour so that tiny chunks of butter remain throughout the dough, without letting it melt or blend into the flour too much. If you have a pastry blender, use it. If not, my still-favorite method, especially if it’s not too hot in the kitchen, is to use my fingers to break up the butter into the four. You can also use two knives, I have never gotten the hang of this, but one of my aunts is really good at it. In any case, when you’re done, there should be some pea-sized chunks, as well as some dough with the texture of coarse cornmeal.
Put some ice and water into one of the measuring cups you’ve already used, and pour a little bit if it onto the butter and flour. Start with just a few tablespoons, and mix it gently in. You want just enough water that the dough will form a tidy ball and not look too dry. Mix in just a little more ice water at a time until it looks good to you. How much you need varies with the humidity, the kind of flour you use, etc. When the dough is moist enough, divide it into two pieces, roughly round-shaped, and either cover the bowl or transfer the dough to an air-tight container. Put it in the fridge to rest for about 1/2 hour.
In the meantime, place a rack below the center of the oven, preheat the oven to 400° F, and make the filling:
Rinse 5 heaping cups of blueberries. A good method to separate any debris from the berries is to put them in a bowl, fill it with water, and stir until the debris floats to the top and you can pour it off.
Pour off all the water, and add to the bowl with the berries:
3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado or natural sugar, a hint of brown sugar flavor is really nice with the berries)
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon lemon juice (you can add some lemon zest as well if your lemon isn’t sprayed and waxed)
Mix all this together and let stand for about 15 minutes.
Roll out one half of the crust into as good a circle shape as you manage, about 1/4 inch thick. Put that half into an 9-inch pie pan, pressing it against the bottom and sides. Use any pieces that stick out over the edge to patch any holes or gaps around the edges.
Roll out the second half of the crust. For fun, instead of cutting a vent for steam, you can cut out shapes with a small cookie cutter before you put the crust on, and use the cut out shapes to decorate your pie (I got this lovely idea from my friend Megan years ago—thank you!).
Pour the filling into the bottom crust, put the top crust over it, and pinch the two crusts together around the edges. Again, you can use any overhanging bits to patch holes.
To get your cookie cutter shapes to stick, and also to give your crust a little bit more deliciousness, you can glaze the crust with 1 egg yolk whisked with a little water. If you can’t foresee using the egg white for anything (throwing it into an omelet, pancake batter, etc.) you can use the whole egg, the egg wash will be thicker. Anyway, brush the egg wash all over the top crust with a pastry brush. Stick your extra cookie cutter shapes on top, and brush more glaze over them. Sprinkle a bit of sugar (the large crystal kind is nice, but regular granulated sugar works fine) on the glaze to give the crust a little more sparkle for your eyes and your mouth.
Bake the pie at 400° for 30 minutes. Put a cookie sheet underneath to catch bubbling juice, lower the temperature to 350° and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until thick juices are bubbling through the holes and the crust is a warm brown all over, and darker in places. If the crust starts to get too brown before the pie is done, you can try covering the whole thing or just the edges with aluminum foil.
Do you have a favorite blueberry recipe? I’d love to know!