Friday, August 13, 2010

Easy as Pie--Blueberry Pie, That Is

Thirteen years ago, a few days after my son was born, my friend Denise asked if she could stop by and bring us a pizza for dinner—and, of course, cuddle with the new baby. I was grateful for the help with dinner. In addition to my newborn son, I had a two-year-old daughter in the throes of some serious sibling jealousy. A two-year-old who, as it happened, would develop chicken pox within the week. Part of her less than graceful reaction to her new brother's presence was likely due to this impending illness. (At least, that's the story I tell myself now.)

When Denise arrived, we settled in for some pizza, conversation, and baby time. Then I offered her a piece of the pear and blueberry pie I'd baked that afternoon.

"I can't believe this," she said, shaking her head over a piece of pie. "What were you doing, holding the baby in one arm and making a pie with the other? How is that even possible?"

I'm not sure when or where pie developed a reputation as this incredibly complicated thing to make. Perhaps it began with the pie competitions at state fairs; perhaps it's older than that, with the song Billy Boy, where we learn that the ability to make a cherry pie is of equal importance to a woman's attendance at church. Whatever the reason, pie gets a bad rap as a fussy dessert only attempted by the more Martha Stewart-inclined among us.

But here's the truth: pie crust is incredibly easy to make. It requires just five ingredients—flour, sugar, salt, shortening and water. You can make it in a food processor, but it takes just a matter of minutes to make pie crust by hand, with a pastry blender. And even if you've never attempted it before—even if you're terrified by the prospect—rest assured that a bad homemade pie crust is infinitely better than a purchased pie crust, whether frozen or ready-to-roll.

This time around, I made a blueberry pie. When I received my box of Greenling Organics produce this week, it included a half-pint of organic blueberries and my husband suggested that I use them to make a pie. He rarely ever asks for anything specific—he's usually happy to eat whatever I decide to cook—so when he does make a specific request, I'm happy to oblige. But a fruit pie requires four cups of fruit, so I bought two more pints from my local HEB and mixed the organics with their less pristine counterparts.

Blueberries, organic or otherwise, are full of good nutrition. They're bursting at the seams with antioxidants, protect against macular degeneration, reduce the effects of aging on your brain . . . I could go on and on, but I won't. Suffice it to say that blueberries should be a regular part of everyone's diet. And if they're in a pie—well, so much the better.


Perfect Pie Crust

3 cups flour
2 T. granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ cup butter, cold, cut into small pieces
½ cup vegetable shortening (like Crisco), cold, cut into small pieces
½ cup cold water

Measure the flour, sugar and salt into a large bowl and stir them together. Drop the cold pieces of butter over this mixture and use a pastry blending to break the butter into smaller pieces. When the pieces of butter are about the size of peas, drop the cold pieces of shortening over this mixture and do the same. Keep blending until both the butter and shortening are broken into pea-size pieces.

Sprinkle ¼ cup of the water over this mixture and, using a fork, stir to combine. You'll notice that the dough is starting to clump together—that's what you want. Continue adding water, about a tablespoon at a time, until the dry ingredients have been incorporated and the dough is moist enough to be packed into a ball.

Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a ball, then flatten each ball slightly. Wrap each disk in plastic and put them in the refrigerator for at least an hour, so the butter can chill. (If you try to roll out the dough any sooner than this, it will be too soft and sticky.)

While the dough is chillaxin', make your filling.

Blueberry Pie Filling 
4 cups blueberries
2 T. lemon juice
½ cup granulated sugar
2 T. corn starch
1 T. lemon zest

Rinse the blueberries under cold water. Sort through them, looking for any berries that are crushed, moldy, or otherwise disgusting. When you're finished, dump the blueberries into a large bowl and add the lemon juice. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, corn starch and lemon zest. Then sprinkle this mixture over the berries and stir gently, until everything is combined.

When you're ready to bake, put a large piece of waxed paper on a countertop or cutting board and sprinkle it with some flour. Rub a little flour on your rolling pin as well. Flatten one disk of dough by rolling vertically, then horizontally, then diagonally—your goal is to maintain the circular shape you started with. (You dough won't be precisely circular, and that's fine.) When you have a circle approximately ten inches wide, use the edges of the waxed paper to lift it. Slide the dough into your pie pan and use your fingers to press the dough gently into the bottom and up the side of the pan. If your dough tears while you're in the process of doing this, don't panic. Just wet your finger with a drop of water and pinch the edges of the tear back together again. You'll have a little overhang at the top—just let it drape over the edges for now.

Roll out the second round of dough, for the top crust, using the same process outlined above. When you're finished, dump the berries into the prepared pie pan and cover them with the second round of pie crust. Fold the overhanging portion of the bottom crust up and over the edge of the top crust. Pinch the edges together tightly, making a seal. If you have too much overhang on one portion of the bottom pie crust, just trim it off.

Use a paring knife to cut four or five slits in the top of the pie crust, to let steam escape while the pie is baking. Put the pie pan on a cookie sheet, to catch any drips (in case the fruit filling bubbles out of the crust) and put the pie in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 and bake for another 30 minutes.

Fruit pies need to cool for at least two hours before you serve them—otherwise, the filling will be runny. This is a good, basic recipe for any kind of fruit pie, though you may need to increase the amount of sugar in the filling, depending on the sweetness of the fruit. 


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