~ The True-Blue, Very-American Blueberry Pie ~
It is time to meet Americana head on. Did you know that blueberries are only one of seven native North American food plants which are now grown on a large scale and cultivated commercially? Before I go any further, I probably should mention the other six: Concord grapes, cranberries, strawberries, corn, beans and squash. This means, these plants were in existence before any of our immigrant ancestors arrived in this new world and the Native Americans were eating them and creating their own recipes/uses for them long before they introduced them to the original Colonists. That said, beloved blueberries were domesticated entirely in the 20th century and it did not take long for this "very American berry" to gain the unconditional love of the world.
Three types of blueberries supply over 90% of the market: lowbush, highbush and rabbiteye. Lowbush varieties (marketed as "wild blueberries" or "huckleberries") are very small, are harvested by machine and are sold almost exclusively to processing plants who make and sell blueberry products like "wild blueberry pie filling" or "wild blueberry preserves". While this sounds like they'd be the cream of the crop, their flavor is actually disappointingly bland. Highbush blueberries are the result of the hybridization of wild native plants. They are picked by hand and are sold fresh, representing over two-thirds of the total blueberries sold in our markets. Rabbiteyes, which are native to the Southeastern United States were/are called rabbiteyes because the berries turn pink before they turn blue, or the eye color of a white rabbit. They are very similar to highbush blueberries, which are native to northeastern North America. Rabbiteye bushes get quite high, up to 20 feet, and, they bloom earlier in the year than the highbush, which sadly, makes them susceptible to Spring frosts. Highbush are smaller than rabbiteyes and were called highbush simply because they were/are taller than low bush varieties.
Highbush blueberries are what my husband Joe grows in our Central PA backyard. The berries are larger and plumper than rabbiteyes and the fruit is juicier with a thinner skin. Their quality is compromised very little by freezing them (which is great for me because, every year, I have a lot to freeze), while the rabbiteye berry skin tends to get tough when frozen. Rabbiteyes, eaten out-of-hand are a bit sweeter, but in my opinion: highbush berries are truly the best variety for the best price.
When selecting blueberries, it is noteworthy to mention that size is not an indication of flavor, shrinkage is. Always choose blueberries that are plump and look like they are ready to burst. Berries that have begun to shrink and wrinkle, while usable, will be less flavorful. AND, no matter what variety you choose to use, be generous -- blueberry pie should be full of berries.
You'll need 2, 9" pie pastries, my recipe or your favorite one, prepared according to directions. You can find my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee: Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~ in Categories 6, 15 or 22. You'll also need 8 cups of blueberries, either fresh or frozen. As I mentioned above, I like blueberry pie bursting with blueberries and 8 cups is what I deem necessary for my pie. If your blueberries are frozen, remove them from the freezer and allow them to partially-thaw for 20-30 minutes, until they are soft and pliable on the outside but still frozen on the inside. If you thaw them completely, the juices run out and the berries get mushy, which is a situation to be avoided at all costs, so: error on the side of a little too frozen rather than a little to thawed out.
~ Step 1. Roll one pie pastry as directed and place in a 9" pie or quiche dish. Using one knuckle and two fingertips, form a decorative border around the perimeter of the dish. Place the pie shell in the refrigerator. Prep the second pastry as follows:
~ Step 2. On your favorite pastry board or silicon mat, using your favorite rolling pin, roll the second pastry as directed. Using 1 or 2 leaf-shaped pastry cutters, make leaf-shaped cut outs, as close together as possible, across the surface of the pastry....
... If you don't have leaf-shaped pastry cutters, using a very small paring knife, just cut simple, random-sized leaf shapes, as close together as possible, across the surface of the pastry.
~ Step 3. Using a thin spatula, carefully transfer the leaves to a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with a sheet of parchment paper.
Using the back of the paring knife, not the sharp blade, press some lines that resemble the fibrous veins of tree leaves across the top of each one. Do not cut through or even halfway through the leaves. Just score the tops.
Place pan of leaves in refrigerator with the pie shell while preparing the pie filling as follows:
8 cups fresh blueberries, or, frozen blueberries that have been partially-thawed to a pliable on the outside while still icy on the inside state, about 20-30 minutes
1/4 cup blueberry schnapps
2 tablespoons lemon juice, preferably fresh or the best bottled concentrate available
zest from 1 lemon, if using fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
~ Step 4. Place the fresh or partially-thawed blueberries in a large mixing bowl. Add all of the remaining ingredients. If you have a fresh lemon on hand, use its juice and zest. If you do not, don't let that stop you from making this pie... use bottled concentrate. Using a large rubber spatula, gently and thoroughly combine all. Set aside to allow the flour and tapioca to "work its magic", about 15 minutes, or until a thick pie filling has formed.
Ever wondered what the "rush" a pastry chef feels when a dessert starts looking extraordinary feels like? The feeling you are about to experience is going to be pretty close!
1 large egg
2 tablespoons cream
1 tablespoon water
Using a pastry brush and a light touch, brush the surface of the leaves with the egg mixture.
You surely don't want to soak the leaves in egg mixture, but some of it is destined to drizzle down into the pie filling, so don't angst over this.
~ Step 8. Bake pie on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Loosely cover with a piece of aluminum foil and continue to bake another 15 minutes.
Note: I also like to place a piece of aluminum foil on the rack beneath the pie at this time, to catch juices before they drop to the bottom of the oven and burn.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake 30 more minutes (covered loosely with the aluminum foil). The pastry leaves will be a beautiful golden brown and the blueberry juices should be quite bubbly. Remove from oven, place on a cooling rack and cool completely, several hours or overnight, prior to slicing and serving:
The True-Blue, Very-American Blueberry Pie: Recipe yields 1, 9" pie or 8 servings.
Special Equipment List: 9" pie or quiche dish; pastry board; rolling pin; leaf-shaped pastry cutters; paring knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; thin spatula; large rubber spatula; fork; pastry brush; cooling rack
Cook's Note: As hard as this is to do, allowing this pie to cool overnight, uncovered and unrefrigerated is when it will be at its best. Blueberry pies are notoriously juicy and this long rest give the juices plenty of time to redistribute themselves!
Extra Cook's Note: Like cherries, blueberries freeze well. Place 8 cups, enough for one pie, in each food storage bag. Freeze the individual bags flat, prior to stacking, so the berries in the bags at the bottom do not get smashed!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)