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Thursday, July 12, 2018 12:01 am

Fresh blueberry pie

Blueberry pie


Memory is a funny thing. As easily as you can forget what you ate for lunch yesterday, a single whiff of an aroma from the past can transport you back in time. Every time I make a batch of my great-grandmother’s beef and dumplings, its savory smells fill the house and odd details of her kitchen, from the pattern on the linoleum floor to the textured wood of her old cutting board, become crystal clear in my mind. I’m instantly 6 years old again, sitting under the kitchen table, waiting for her to call out that dinner is ready.

Memory can be complicated, too.

My mother used to make the most amazing fresh blueberry pie. Fresh blueberries and cooked blueberries were mixed together and poured into a baked-pie shell, and there was a layer of vanilla-sweetened sour cream somewhere in there, too. It was truly delicious. If I ever had to claim a favorite dessert, this one would be it, no contest.

The last time my mother made that pie we got into an argument. I don’t even remember what the argument was really about, but it was bad enough that even such a supremely delicious pie was forgotten and left uneaten. It was clearly an unpleasant memory for both of us, because, to my knowledge, she never made that pie again. Delicious as it was, I never asked about it, not wanting to mingle the sweet flavors from years past with the uncomfortable reality of our relationship. I let it go, because, like I said, memory is complicated.
Since my mother’s passing, I’ve thought of that pie now and again and wished I could pick up the phone to ask her for the recipe and apologize for whatever it was we fought about that evening. That argument was more than 10 years ago, but the painful feelings that are stirred up when I think about that night kill any motivation I have to attempt to replicate the recipe on my own.

And so I carried that memory with me, uncomfortable and incomplete, for years. Then, last week, my young daughter and I were driving home from the market and discussing what to make for dinner. We’d just picked up some ripe, juicy blueberries and were snacking on them in the car.

“Ooh, Mommy, let’s make a blueberry pie for dinner!”

“You know, your Nana used to make the most amazing blueberry pie,” I replied. “But I don’t have a recipe for it …”

I trailed off as the usual set of complicated emotions that were wrapped up with the memory of that pie settled into my gut. Then I glanced up in my mirror at the smiling, bright-eyed child in the back seat and decided it was time to confront those emotions once and for all.

“Sure,” I smiled. “Let’s make a blueberry pie.”

Once home, I sent a message to my sister, Anne, asking if she remembered Mom making that blueberry pie. She immediately texted me back: “Yes! One of my friends from college is obsessed with it. She’d probably drive down from Chicago if she knew you were making it.” Turns out Anne didn’t have a recipe for it either, but we established that the sweetened sour cream was on the bottom layer of the pie and there was rhubarb as well as berries in the cooked portion of the filling.

So, later that day, my daughter and I set forth on our pie-making mission. As she helped roll out pie crust and I diced rhubarb I let the sad memories of my mother’s death and our complicated relationship commingle with the blissful reality of now. While the pie shell baked in the oven and my daughter and I stirred blueberries and sugar and rhubarb into a thick jam on the stovetop, I could feel the tightness in my throat begin to release just a little bit.

We finished assembling the pie and put it into the fridge to set. Later that evening we sat outside in the thick, muggy air, watching fireflies and eating pie. My daughter climbed onto my lap, and even though it was far too hot to cuddle, I didn’t object. Somewhere in the process of making that blueberry pie, of simply being with the memories of my mother in the kitchen all day, I resolved an episode that had been left unfinished in my mind for years. The only feelings left were of gratitude for being able to keep my mother’s passion alive in the kitchen with my own little family. And, of course, gratitude that I can once again enjoy this seriously-delicious pie.  

Fresh blueberry pie
• 1 baked-pie shell, either traditional or graham cracker
• 2 c. diced rhubarb
• 6 c. fresh blueberries, divided
• Juice and zest of  ½ a lemon
• A pinch of salt  
• 2/3 c. sugar
• 1 c. cold water, divided
• 2 T. cornstarch
• 1 c. sour cream
• 1 tsp. vanilla
• 1 T. sugar

In a non-reactive saucepan over medium heat, combine the diced rhubarb, 2 cups of the blueberries, the lemon juice and zest, salt, sugar and half the water. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until the fruit is soft and the berries have burst, about 5 to 10 minutes. Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining cold water and stir into the simmering fruit mixture. Cook over medium heat until the mixture bubbles and becomes very thick, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a heat-safe dish to cool completely. While the berry mixture cools, mix together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla, and set aside.

Gently mix in the remaining 4 cups of blueberries into the cooled blueberry-rhubarb mixture. Spread the sour cream mixture over the bottom of the pie shell, then top with the blueberry mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the pie to set.

This method also makes for an excellent fresh strawberry or mixed-berry pie. Simply substitute fresh sliced strawberries or a mixture of berries for the blueberries.

Contact Ashley Meyer at ashley@realcuisine.net.

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