Blueberry Pie

Berry picking was a regular summer weekend activity for my family when I was growing up. Most berry picking expeditions were fun, but there were times when we kids dreaded those hot afternoons on logging roads and in the woods, when the only breezes were fanned by deer flies and mosquitoes and the berries were few. When we found a good patch, however, it was fun to fill our pails while we looked forward to all the good things our mother would make.

My sister Barbara published a small book for our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary with photos and notes by my siblings and me. One that I contributed was about berry picking.

A Catalog of Berries

What did we gather
From roadsides and fence rows?
What fruits did we pick
On hot summer days?

First wild strawberries,
Then Juneberries and blueberries,
Followed by raspberries, blackberries
And pin cherries and sometimes some
Chokecherries and wild plums too.

Made into shortcakes,
Baked into pies,
Turned into jams
And jellies and sauces

To cool us on hot days
And warm us on cold days
With memories of summer
In the middle of winter.

But enough of this. The blueberries are plump and starting to lighten a little. In two weeks, the Lord willing, you can be picking your own blueberries. Just drive the backwoods through the county and national forests north of highway 70 until you find some open pine woods.

Stop the car and walk into the woods. You may not find any the first two or three stops, but if you keep looking, suddenly you will be walking through a carpet of blueberries. Drop to your knees and fill your pail, then head home to make blueberry pie.

Here is my recipe. It is based on one from an old cookbook of my mother’s that I used for my first blueberry pie in 1954. It is best made with wild blueberries, but tame blueberries are okay. The pie is easy to make and delicious, especially when served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

INGREDIENTS:

Pie dough for a double crust
4 cups fresh wild blueberries
3/4 cup sugar plus extra to decorate the top crust
4 T all purpose flour
Dash of salt
2 T lemon juice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. butter

PROCEDURE:

Wash the blueberries and remove any stems, leaves or bad berries. Drain the berries and mix them with the other ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside for at least fifteen minutes while you are making the pie crust.

Preheat the oven to 450º.

Line a nine-inch pie plate with the crust. Stir the blueberries and fill the crust. Dot with four or five peanut-sized pieces of butter. Cover with a top crust and seal the edges. Make a few slits in the crust to allow steam to escape and sprinkle a little sugar on top. Put it into the hot oven and bake for ten minutes. Reduce the heat to 350º and bake thirty-five or forty minutes until the crust is golden brown. Allow the pie to cool thoroughly before serving.

NOTE: This pie always seems to run over in the oven. Put a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom of the oven to catch the overflow. This is actually a pretty good idea for any pie. If you prefer, make a lattice for the top crust.

The Blueberry Pie

Of all my experiences in the kitchen, one stands out as a brave attempt, a failure and a testament of love. Two months and two weeks after my eleventh birthday, my sister Patsy made her appearance in the world on a hot July day. It was 1954, and doctors confined new mothers in the hospital for a week after the ordeal of having a baby.

My mother and father had arranged for my two younger sisters and me to stay with my mother’s parents. They had a farm with a small herd of dairy cows that grandpa milked by hand, a horse, a black and white farm dog, geese, ducks, chickens and even a pair of guinea hens. There were two ponds, a wonderful stone porch, a haymow and a swing. To make it even better, Grandma baked great bread and cookies.

It would be a wonderful vacation, so everyone was surprised when I announced that I wanted to stay home. After all, I had spent a week with Grandma and Grandpa last summer and was still raving about it. Even more baffling to my parents was the fact that I would not say why I wanted to stay home. Today I wonder if they thought that something horrible had happened last summer, though I tried to assure them that I really liked staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s, but that I just wanted to stay home this week to take care of our chickens, weed the garden (a white lie), and be there for Dad when he got home after work.

When Gus, the old farmer who lived down the road and had taught me to fish for trout, promised to keep an eye on me, they agreed to let me watch over “the home place.” Little did they know what I had in mind. When Mom “felt that the baby was ready to come,” we took her to the hospital, and Dad and I delivered my two sisters to Grandma and Grandpa’s.

The next morning I was ready to put my plan into action. The plan actually grew out of the magnificent crop of wild blueberries that year. I had decided to make a blueberry pie to cheer up my mother during her stay in the hospital.

For as long as I could remember I had watched my mother make pies, and she made it look simple. But for insurance I got down her cookbooks and read everything I could find about making pies. There were several crust recipes, but I settled on the simplest one. It called for flour, lard, salt and water. Though my grandmother had told me that the best crusts were made with goose grease, I had no intention of killing and roasting a goose. First decision made.

There were only a couple of recipes for blueberry pie, and I again chose the simplest. Just blueberries, sugar, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon and butter. Even this simple list of ingredients posed a challenge as I did not have a lemon. I thought of asking my father to buy me one, but as I intended to surprise both him and my mother with a blueberry pie, I bicycled the four miles into town and spent some carefully hoarded money for a lemon at the A & P.

When my father came home after work that first day, he told me that I had a new baby sister. I also had a lemon tucked away where Dad would not find it.

Picking enough berries the next morning was no problem and mixing the filling was simple. My pie was over half done. All I needed was a crust.

Getting the right amount of lard was a little tricky, but by letting the lard soften a little, I managed to get it pretty exact. The recipe said to cut the lard into the flour with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture looked like coarse cornmeal, then add three or four tablespoons of cold water and toss lightly until the dough started to stick together, then form it into a ball.

The problem was that the flour did not want to stick together, so I added a little more water. Unfortunately the dough began to remind me of the paste we used to make at school. I was not worried because my mother always rolled out the dough on a floured board, and I had one ready with plenty of flour.

Following instructions I divided the dough in half and put one part on the board. In half an hour or so, with several adjustments to the proportions of flour and water, I had lined the pie plate with a nice thick crust and had the top crust resting on the board ready to cover the filling.

The pie was cool when my father came home from work. Was he surprised! I asked him if I could bring a piece of pie to mom in the hospital. He told me that children were not allowed into the maternity ward, but Mom’s room was on the first floor, and he would show me her window so she could thank “her pie baker.” He also said that he was looking forward to a piece of pie for dessert.

The first indication of a possible problem came when I tried to cut it. It just did not want to be cut, so my father helped remove two slices After a few small bites of crust
we peeled off the top and ate the filling off the bottom. We agreed that the filling was very good although the crust was a little tough.

He suggested that we take Mom her piece of pie the next evening. Maybe he thought that the crust would soften in a day, but my crust was impervious to blueberry pie filling. After supper the next day, Dad cut Mom a small slice of pie, explaining as he did so that Mom was not supposed to have too many desserts.

And it was worth all the effort. I still remember Mom standing at the window holding the pie by the crust and raising it to her mouth. It looked like she was eating a trowel, but she managed a small bite and chewed and swallowed the thing crust and all.

“Mmm, that’s good,” she said, “Chuckie, I am so proud of you. That’s a delicious pie. Thank you.”

“The crust is a little tough,” I said.

“But it tastes wonderful, and you made it all by yourself. We’ll work on crusts when I get home next week, if you promise to pick some more blueberries.”

“I promise. I love you, Mom.”

“And I love you. Take care of Dad. Good night.”

We smiled all the way home.