We were away on a vacation to the Adirondacks last week, this time renting a cabin (or “camp”as they call them up there). I always like to eat well whether we are in the woods or at home, and by going to a place with a stove and a refrigerator, we were able to have good food all week. But when we are on vacation, I want to be outdoors instead of in the kitchen, so I prepare quite a few things ahead of time to bring with us. One treat that I baked to bring along was a fresh blueberry pie. We had gone berry-picking a couple of days before our departure, and with all of those luscious berries, a pie was in order.
I always make my own pie crust, but the important thing is to make the pie, so if the crust is holding you back, by all means, purchase a refrigerated pie dough. I learned to make pie crust from my mother when I was a kid, using a wire pastry blender. In the late 80’s, I received Julia Child’s The Way to Cook as a gift, and the one recipe that I use over and over is for pie crust using a food processor. The food processor technique is faster, and I also like the flavor of the butter in this pastry recipe (Mom always used just Crisco). This is a bit softer rolling out than an all-shortening pie crust, particularly in warm weather, so it is sometimes tricky to keep it from tearing. But if it does tear, I just patch it up. I don’t mind the look of a pie with the berry juices leaking through holes in the top. But if you do mind, you can increase the ratio of shortening to butter in the recipe.
The recipe that I like for Blueberry Pie comes from Marion Cunningham’s Fannie Farmer Cookbook. It is a very simple, straightforward filling of berries and sugar. The berry juices are thickened with a little flour, which I like better than cornstarch or tapioca as a thickening agent. I use more berries in the pie than the original recipe, without adjusting the sugar or flour.
Blueberry Pie (adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
Pastry for 9” double-crust pie, (recipe below, make at least 2 hours ahead)
5 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 scant cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon butter
Preheat the oven to 425° F. Pick over the blueberries to remove any stems. If using frozen blueberries, I defrost them partially in a microwave so that the pie does not take a long time to cook.
Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the blueberries and lemon juice and toss well.
Roll out the bottom crust and line the pie plate with some of the pastry hanging over the edges. Pour the blueberry mixture into the pie dish and and dot with pieces of butter. Roll out the top crust and carefully place over the pie. Pinch the edges of the pastry together in a decorative way with your fingers (without making very thin spots which might burn) and cut a few short slashes in the top as vents (you can be creative with the design).
Bake the pie in the middle of the oven at 425° for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350° and bake for 50-60 minutes more or until the top is browned, and the juices are bubbling.
Julia Child’s Pie Pastry (Pâte Brisée Fine), adapted from The Way to Cook
For a double-crust 9” pie:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup bleached cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) chilled unsalted butter, quartered lengthwise and diced
¼ cup chilled vegetable shortening
¼ cup ice water, plus a little more to be added as needed
Food processor method:
Put the flours, salt and diced butter in the food processor and pulse a few times until the butter is roughly cut up . ( If you don’t have cake flour at hand, you can omit it and use all-purpose flour for a bit less tender crust). Add the shortening and pulse a few more times until the butter forms pea-like pieces. Add the ice water and pulse a few more times. Take off the cover and feel the dough. When there is enough water, it will just hold together when you pinch it our clump it in your hand. If the dough is too dry and floury, add a few more drops of water and pulse again.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface or large piece of plastic wrap and push it together into one ball. Give it a few pushes with the heel of your to smear it out into a disk shape. Wrap the dough and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours and up to two days. This will allow the flour to absorb the liquid and the butter to chill before rolling out. This pastry dough can also be frozen.
Low-tech pastry blender method:
Mix together the dry ingredients with a fork in a large bowl. Add the cut-up butter, and cut into the flour with a pastry blender until the butter pieces are well-separated. Add the shortening, and use the pastry blender to cut it into the dough until the fats are pea-sized pieces. Then, a tablespoon at a time, add the ice-cold water, and mix in with the pastry blender until the dough holds together. Form into a ball, flatten with the heel of your hand into a disk, wrap and chill as above.
Rolling out the dough: I use a floured pastry cloth on the work surface and a cotton rolling pin cover (also rubbed with flour) to help keep the buttery dough from sticking to either surface. You can use plastic wrap between the dough and the rolling pin if you don’t have a rolling pin cover, or just dust the pastry with additional flour as necessary to keep it from sticking. You will divide the chilled dough into two pieces for the bottom and top crusts. Roll out the larger one (the “half” that feels heavier) for the bottom crust, and keep the smaller portion in the fridge for rolling out the top. Roll each dough piece into a circle large enough to extend over the edges of the pie plate.