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Tuesday
Mar292011

Pie Slam Profiles: Blueberry Pie by Wendy Johnson

CakeSpy Note: This is part of a series of Pie Slam Profiles, featuring the recipes and stories of each of the 9 entrants in last week's Pi(e) Day Pie Slam! This entry is for Blueberry pie, by Wendy Johnson. Here's her story, followed by her recipe.

Pie : a (true) love story

Did Grandma Radi make pies?  I asked.

No, that’s the one thing she couldn’t cook.  They came out tough.

And Grandma Johnson?

No, she couldn’t really cook anything.

Well, how did you start making pie?

I just taught myself, the first pie I made was when we were first married, maybe just a week. That was the best pie I ever made, I could never get them to turn out as good.

What kind was it?

Lemon meringue.

Mom was red-eyed, staring out the passenger window as we drove through the stultifying Texas landscape of oil wells, pawn shops and used car dealerships.

She would silently work a crossword for awhile, or concentrate on her knitting, and then suddenly start in about how they met, about the awful yellow sweater he was wearing when his friends came up to her friends after a Sweet Home High School Basketball game.

Or about how he courted her in his father’s 1960 dark blue Buick LeSabre convertible with the white ragtop. Ray Charles would’ve been singing “I can’t stop loving you.” They’d put the top down, blast the heat and cruise around Buffalo, New York in the chilly spring of 1962.

As we neared Birmingham Alabama, she told me without malice of how dad’s parents had offered him money to prevent the marriage of their son to the daughter of Italian immigrants. Of how my Grandmother, on her death bed, had said to my mom, “I was pretty hard on you wasn’t I? I’m sorry for that.”

The Lemon Meringue was the first tradition that they alone owned. Not from his family or hers. My mother created pie for my father. Over the years they shared, almost 50, she honed her skill, her deft first generation hands turning flour and butter and fruit and sugar into expertly sculpted deliciousness, perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, between lightness and substance.

And what about the last pie, do you remember what it was?

It must’ve been blueberry. Your father loved blueberry.

Here's the recipe:

Blueberry Pie

For the Butter Pastry:

  • 2 cups all purpose unbleached white flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cups unsalted butter (or 2/3 cup butter and 1/3 cup leaf lard.) 
  • 1/3 cup cold water (may add 1-2 tsp cider or white vinegar.) 

For the Filling:

  • 3 cups Blueberries and 3 cups Wild Blueberries 
  • ½-1 cup light brown sugar (or to taste)
  • 1-2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • The juice of one fresh-squeezed lemon
  • Nutmeg (1/4 tsp), Cinnamon (2 tsp), Cardamom (1/4 tsp), Ground cloves (1/4 tsp) and ground ginger (1 tsp.) (add spices to taste)

 Procedure 

  1. Put everything in the refrigerator for an hour or so before making the pastry (the mixing bowl, the water, the lard, the butter).  Preheat the oven to 350.  Combine the flour, salt, and butter in a large mixing bowl and work with a pastry cutter until the butter chunks are the size of peas. You should still be able to see small pieces of butter. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and use your hands to flatten some of the bits of fat into flakey pieces. Add the water all at once and gather the jumble together without really stirring or kneading, just until the mixture comes together to form a shaggy mass. Without handling the dough any more than necessary, divide in half and press each half into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate it while preparing the berries.
  2. Wash fresh berries, or use frozen.  Put all berries in bowl and toss with sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and spices.  Add more sugar or spices to taste, but be careful not to over sweeten.
  3. On a well-floured surface, roll out one disk of the pastry into a 12-inch circle onto floured parchment paper.  Lift the parchment paper and place dough-side down into a buttered 10-inch pie pan. Press the pastry into place and pour in the berry mix. Roll the second disk of dough into a 12-inch circle and plant it squarely on top of the filling. Crimp the edges together to create a seal, then trim off an excess dough. Pierce the top crust with a fork or knife to vent juices. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is boiling out of the crust a bit, about 1 hour. Cool thoroughly on a rack before slicing.

(Pastry recipe adapted from: Greg Atkinson, Copyright 2007)

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