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The Simple, Perfect Blueberry Pie That Traveled 3 Generations

Food52 logo Food52 8/21/2019 Caitlin Raux Gunther
a pizza sitting on top of a wooden table © Provided by Food52

Summer doesn’t happen for me until I’ve had a warm slice of blueberry pie. Growing up, we made them double-crusted and a little tart, from a squeeze of lemon and just a touch of added sugar. And we ate them outside under the stars, barefooted with our hard-earned sunburns.

It’s a pie that suits my general mood toward everything come summertime: a) simple; and b) requires minimal time indoors. The prep is almost negligible, especially if you choose store-bought crust (it’s summer, c’mon): no peeling, pitting or hulling. Even for the filling, you can skip measuring entirely, eyeballing ingredients and adjusting the sugar, lemon, and spices to taste (note: all optional).

I recently unearthed a 19th-century pie recipe that read: “when molasses is preferred, use three spoonfuls and a little cinnamon instead of nutmeg.” I envisioned a blueberry pie with a hint of molasses sweetness, and imagined swapping my usual scoop of vanilla ice cream for a spoonful of créme fraiche.

Why not?

This blueberry pie is a care- and stress-free recipe that invites tweaking at your whim. And that’s another joy of summer, right? Chasing our whims a little more than usual, letting the weather dictate the rhythms of our days.

As kids, we picked the berries to fill our pies, back when my siblings and I spent every weekend with our cousins and second cousins in the Catskills. Back when we hopped beds between a dark wood cabin and a gingerbread-esque A-frame near my grandparent’s home; back when long, hot days were swallowed up by a series of discrete missions, one of which was the temporal nexus of blueberry picking.

Beginning just after breakfast, we marched like tiny kings and queens through wild grass fields humming with cicadas. I’d pick the ends off of golden wheat stalks and collect them in my T-shirt. For making bread, I thought solemnly (I liked to pretend that I was living off the land). Then, a grasshopper would spring into view and I’d set off chasing it, letting my stockpile fall to the ground.

To escape the heat, we’d jump off a splintery dock into the lake, or go wading barefoot in the chilly, shimmering streams, where we’d stalk crayfish underneath slippery rocks. They darted through the water tailfirst, and you had to move fast and pinch with two fingers right behind their lobster-like claws. We’d lift a blue-red creature out of the water victoriously, then immediately set it free and start searching for its cousins.

When it rained, we walked along mossy roads and collected bright orange salamanders. I’d gently stroke their soft side bellies, then carry them far from the road to safety.

Come late July, when blueberry season entered its prime, we set off into the woods to our favorite spots—where we knew the blueberries grew so thick that you could drag your fingers along the branch and let them fall into your container by the dozen.

“We used to tie old Quaker Oats canisters around your necks with string,” my mom recently told me, looking quite pleased with her ingenuity, “so you wouldn’t drop the blueberries!”

Sometimes, when you first started picking, as the berries dropped thump thump into the bottom of the container, it felt like you’d never fill it up. Demoralized, I’d eat a handful, squandering my reserve. But pretty soon the pile started to grow; your container got a little weighty and you started to feel a sense of accomplishment. Your momentum grew alongside visions of blueberry pies you’d eat later that evening.

We’d return with purple-stained fingertips and mouths, dumping our loot into large, metal bowls in the kitchen. There, the hard, light-green, unripened blueberries would be flicked away, the rest would be washed, and the adults would bake them into pies and muffins—but those were matters for adults. For us kids, the missions were strictly outdoors.

The sky darkened. Grown-ups sipped cocktails and homemade wine spritzers out of hard plastic cups painted with red and yellow flowers. A barbecue set over stacked stones sizzled. Fireflies started blinking in the lawn, and we trapped them with our hands and collected them in glass jars. Streams trickled while crayfish nestled themselves under slippery rocks. The sweet smell of cooked blueberries filled the cabin kitchen.

After dinner, we ate blueberry pie with scoops of Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream under the inky blue sky, searching for the three stars of Orion’s Belt, or the handles of the Big and Little Dippers. We’d go to sleep tired and sunburnt, with skinned knees and visions of the next day’s missions in our heads.

Now that we’re the adults, years later, it’s our turn to bake the pies. But we live farther away and each year fewer of the cousins make it back to the Catskills, which, to our amusement, has become something of a destination—home to rustic-meets-modern boutique hotels and barn weddings illuminated by tea lights.

The land has changed, too. Some of our old blueberry spots have vanished, where violent storms have caused trees to fall and loggers had to clear the land.

I have my own daughter now, Mimi. And at 4 months old, she’s too young to pick blueberries. Still, I want to give her that same flavor of summertime I had growing up. And I hope that with time, new bushes will grow and I’ll tie an oatmeal canister around her neck and send her into the woods. Her summer nights will smell like warm blueberry pie and each day will be filled with her own frivolous adventures.

This is why we traveled from Paris, where we now live, to spend a few weeks in my childhood home in upstate New York. My sister drove with her four daughters from Dallas and my brother came from Brooklyn, too.

As I head toward the few spots where blueberry bushes still grow, I have Mimi strapped to my chest so she can observe how it’s done. And I keep dropping blueberries into an old takeout container thump thump until I’ve got at least a pie’s worth.

Meanwhile, a crayfish darts backward through a nearby stream. Maybe we’ll go find it before heading home to make a pie.

a pizza sitting on top of a wooden table © Provided by Food52

Rose Levy Beranbaum's Fresh Blueberry Pie

By Genius Recipes

Basic Flaky Pie Crust for a 9-Inch Pie

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 1/3 cups pastry flour or bleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon non-aluminum baking powder (if not using, double the salt)

Open-Faced Fresh Blueberry Pie

  • 1 tablespoon egg white, lightly beaten (optional)
  • 4 cups blueberries, rinsed and dried
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 cups whipped cream (optional)

View Full Recipe

Related video: Erin McDowell's Buttermilk Sweet Potato Pie

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