Blueberry Pie

Sunday, August 3, 2014

blueberries box

Summer in Minnesota is a burst of perfection, and I am clinging to it with a white-knuckled grip and a pining for summers of the past. All seasons remind me of New Ulm, a small town in southeastern Minnesota where my grandmother lived in the same house until she couldn’t live alone anymore. My mom and her sisters grew up in that house, and sometimes I fantasize about knocking on the door and asking the current owners if I can take a quick walk through, just to see if I can still smell it. I’d bury my head in the coat closet and wait for the scent of mothballs and fur coats I only saw her wear in photos until the owners, reluctant but obliged, tapped me on the shoulder and said ok now, time to go. But summer, especially, is the time I miss it, her, the most. Even if she didn’t like to cook, she loved to feed, and her attention to small details at meals left an impression that rooted deep. In fact, we spent more time around my grandmother’s kitchen table than anywhere else in her house, towed back by an unseen force after too much time away. We didn’t know it then, but we were building traditions there that lately I am seeing in pieces as they surface in a flashback, a story, or a keepsake that’ll spark a memory long forgotten.


Tippy’s kitchen is built and maintained with the same traits. Petite as it is, there’s always room for everyone, and even with two people in the corner at the stove, one person at the sink, another with a chopping knife at the counter and three on chairs around her red wooden table, somehow you never feel the old, no good adage of too many cooks. No task is too grand. This speaks more to Tippy’s circuitry than the layout of her kitchen, and I can only hope to give people the same fortifying sense in my own kitchen, come the day. We make sense of our lives by building up from the foundations we were given, adding our own twists, but leaving space, always, for the traditions that were laid before us, for us. So that when the time comes, we can hand them down, and ultimately, let them live.


Last weekend, with our ticking time bomb of blueberry loot, Tippy, Laurel, and I took root in their kitchen and didn’t much move until we’d made our way through twelve and three-quarters of the thirteen pounds Laurel and I had picked days before. We chopped red pepper and minced ginger and squeezed lime for blueberry salsa. We picked lavender and steeped vanilla bean to pour over blueberries in jars for an infused, sweet and floral syrup. We folded warm blueberry sauce into wonton wrappers and fried them until they turned bubbly and crisp, then tore them apart too soon, too hungry to wait. Mike, Tippy’s oldest son, left a box of homebrewed ale in the basement, and that saved the Sunday when liquor stores are closed in Minnesota. We upended four bottles in a stockpot with sugar, lemon, allspice, and star anise, then mixed in red onion and whole berries and boiled it all until it gleamed to a thick, textured jam. We made our grandma’s strawberry honey, sub blueberries, and a hot chutney with curry, dried currants, and jalapeno. We made pies that we took breaks to eat by the forkful straight from the pan.

blueberry wash

The two pie recipes we used were about as different as they could be. Rush River’s version is mostly uncooked and totally uncovered, so that the whole berries maintain their shape and texture, and pop with each bite–sweet, tart, uncompromised. First you make a sauce with sugar, water, and a cup of blueberries that you let simmer away for what seems like eternity until the berries break down and the color turns definitively purple. The Gold Standard of Purple, it is a vision worth waiting for. Then you let it cool, fold in the rest of the blueberries, pour it all into a prebaked 9-inch pie shell, and let it chill (if you can stand waiting). We used a crust recipe aptly named, “Mom’s Pie Crust,” which has been handed down from mothers to daughters in our family, and of whose original identity is unknown. It is a dump crust that calls for corn oil, because that’s what Tippy’s mom uses, and what our grandmother used, what her mother used, and so on, and it just never occurred to anybody to write in an alternative suggestion.

The second pie is from Lan, who I’ve met virtually by way of her captivating, redolent photos. Her interpretation of food is striking, both the recipes she chooses and the way she presents them through her lens, and so when she endorsed her husband’s go-to recipe for pie, I knew it was going to be good. With this recipe, you pulse together a crust of flour, orange zest, pecans, butter (or a vegan alternative) and sugar, and then you dribble in cold vodka and pulse again. Vodka evaporates quickly, resulting in a very flaky, tender crust, and leaves no trace of itself behind. Once you’ve chilled and rolled out the crust in a deep dish pan, you mix together some cornstarch, orange juice, flour, sugar, and blueberries and pour that on top of the crust. You top it with a crumbly sprinkle of oats, cinnamon, sugar, and fat (she uses coconut oil, we used butter) and bake it until the top is golden. A slice of warm pie she told me, is excellent with coconut cream or vanilla ice cream. She was right about that, too. See the full recipe here, and her blog, More Stomach, here.

Now go get yourself some blueberries, and hurry.

Blueberry Pie (from Rush River Produce in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, where we also picked all our berries)

9″ Pie Crust**
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cold water
1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons all purpose flour, unbleached
4 cups fresh blueberries
Pinch of salt

Mix the cold 1/4 cup of water with the flour and salt to make a smooth batter. Boil 1 cup of blueberries with the 1/2 cup of water and all the sugar. Add batter and stir with a whisk until it thickens. Remove from heat and let cool. Once it’s cool, fold in the remaining 3 cups of fresh blueberries and pour into the pre-baked pie shell.** Chill.

**Mom’s Pie Crust recipe:
Sift these into a pie tin:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, unbleached
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a separate bowl, mix 1/2 cup corn oil (or a different neutral oil of your choice) with 2 tablespoons of milk. Pour liquid into the center of the flour mix. Mix with a fork. Spread with your fingers across the bottom and up the sides of the pie pan. Prick with a fork all around. For pre-bakes, bake at 425 degrees F for 12-15 minutes.

  • Lan | morestomach

    squee! so glad you liked the pie. and TWO pies in a month, oh the luxury! we have one gallon bag of frozen blueberries that i was going to use up for smoothies during the month of Sept but this post just makes me want to just use them all up for pieeeeee!

    • Jacqui

      You know, until you said luxury I never thought of it that way. But it totally was. Thanks for that, Lan! And thanks, always, for your recipes.