Summer is a short, burst of a season. For a few, brief months the world shows its abundant nature, overflowing with colours, flavours, life. So when the wild blueberries start producing, there's nothing more important to honor their nature than by gathering them up, handful by handful, and baking them into a pie.
Sure, blueberry pancakes are delicious too. As are muffins and salads studded with the tiny purple gems. But the real ticket is pie. How else can you use up five cups in a flash? What better way to enjoy the berries warm, in their full glory? No better way.
My parents have a lovely cabin on an even lovelier lake. There is a garden out back, a dock out front, and meadow grasses in between. Perhaps no better a slice of earth exists.
In past years, a small blueberry bush has grown on this postage stamp property. Just a tiny little thing that barely produces enough for bush-side snacking, let alone the sheer quantities needed for a pie.
But in the last two years, my dad has taken to cutting back a few young trees, and cleaning out some of the brush out front. This wild cultivation has caused the blueberries to explode forth, like water held behind a retaining wall.
Of course, humans can't claim all the credit for this bounty. No doubt ideal weather have helped the crop along as well. And so, with humans and nature cooperating, it is the summer of the wild blueberry.
Every time I make a blueberry pie, there is a disagreement. I like my pie with cinnamon, the so-called "old-fashioned" way. A decent amount of cinnamon at that. But my mother doesn't know how this spice ever entered the conversation, let alone became a staple at the table.
So, we've reached a compromise. A reasonable amount of cinnamon can be added to the pie. That, along with some lemon zest. But no, no lemon juice is necessary. The blueberries are tart enough you see. And the sugar, let's not overdo it.
Myself, despite a love of butter, I am consistently shocked when making pastry at the sheer volume of it. So, I try to tone it down. Rather than the "best-no-fail-flakiest-crust-you'll-ever-damn-see" trick, I turn to a "delicious-but-not-so-ridiculous" compromise crust. Rather than a full cup of butter, I use three-quarters. Hardly wartime rations, but a small attempt at saying this is enough.
The result is delicious. Good enough to send me back out, clearing more ferns with my eye on the future. Hoping for an even larger bounty next year. My mom has been picking the blueberry crop as each one of my sisters comes for a visit. And still, the bush looks pristine, untouched. For nearly a month it has put out large, ripe berries.
Yet, here I am, thinking of the future. Clearing the ferns, plotting the seasons. Hoping for even more berries to make even more pie next year. Such a human trait -- never content with the present abundance, always seeking more for the future.
So, if you find yourself on a postage stamp corner of the world full of wild blueberries in the next week or two, you know the drill. Stoop down to the ground, and start picking. It'll take a while -- you'll need five cups. When you're done, make a pie. Cut some of the sugar, the better to taste the fruit. And some of the butter, because really, who needs it? Then eat your pie in peace. No need to dream about the next year's crop. For now, this season's abundance is enough.
Wild Blueberry Pie
Crust: Follow a standard recipe for crust, such as Melissa Clark's famous version. But try going with 3/4 a cup of butter instead of a full cup, and substitute 1/2 a cup of the 2 1/2 cups of flour with spelt. Also, why must every recipe call for plastic wrap? Did no one bake a pie before plastic was invented? This stuff is nasty indeed. Bad for you, bad for the planet. So cover the pastry in paper towel, a clean napkin, even a dish. Get creative. You really don't need plastic wrap at all. And if you do insist on plastic, why not reuse some? Here are the ingredients, but I leave Madame Clark to walk you through the "chickpea/fava bean sized chunks of butter" drill.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup spelt flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter (if salted, just cut the above salt)
5-6 tablespoons of ice water
Filling -- the Main Event: Wild blueberries are preferable, but do what you must. The pie will taste sweeter when still warm. The cinnamon scale goes from "just a hint" (1/4 tea) to "in your face" (3/4 tea). The lemon zest, while optional, really is a special touch. And the flour is what binds the messy blueberries together, at least a little bit.
5 cups of wild blueberries, cleaned and picked over
1/2 cup sugar
1/4-3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3-4 tablespoons of flour (I used spelt)
Lemon zest from one lemon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla powder or extract (omit if you don't have it)
Mix all these delicious ingredients together. Put them in your pie crust. You can pre-bake the bottom crust for 10 minutes if you like. If you want a lattice top, check out Simply Recipes' tutorial, which is how I learned. And also because Elise's comes out much fancier indeed.
Put in the oven at 425 for 20 minutes, then another 30 or so down at 350. Perfect or not, it will be delicious.