Apple pie gets all the patriotic props, but perhaps blueberry pie should be our new national pastry. The little blue balls are native to North America, they pack a powerful dose of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants, and they couldn’t be much easier to prepare: Just wash ‘em and pop into your mouth!
Producing 25% of the nation’s blueberries is the far northeast state of Maine – or down east, as they call it. “Wild” blueberry farms dot the state from coast to forest, providing Mainers with a non-stop supply of berries during the hot summer months. Many young people find seasonal work on these farms, as I did one hot summer several years ago.
Blueberry farm work, like most farm work, is not easy and anyone would be hard-pressed to call it fun. The low, brambly bushes must be harvested by hand outside in the sun for best yield, using a special low and wide rake that cleans the fruit off the stem gently and slowly.
Bushels of blueberries are then dumped on a slow conveyer belt, hour after hour, for sorters to pick through and clear away any mushy or hard berries as well as rogue objects like leaves, rocks or insects that found their way into the fruit. After a day’s work raking the fields or sorting bushel after bushel of blueberries, when you close your eyes at the end of the day, you can only see one thing: Blueberries. And you will still be sorting them out in your sleep. To this day, I can sort through a pint of blueberries in two seconds, eyes closed (the key to sorting blueberries is to use your sense of touch, not sight).
The one saving grace of those long, hot days on the blueberry farm was the fact that every night, someone would take home a big carton of blueberries and return the next morning with fresh-baked muffins, coffeecake, turnovers, scones with jam – and sometimes, a blueberry pie.
While blueberries are fine sources of antioxidants and vitamin C, please note that this is not a health food recipe. This is pie. I have not adjusted the recipe to be low-fat, low-calorie, low-sugar or low-anything else. This is Billions of Blueberries pie, a simple, summer dessert that has been served for generations – and tastes best warmed up and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
2 cups + 3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon cold water
1 egg yolk + 1 tablespoon water (for egg wash)
5-6 cups Maine wild blueberries
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
1. Make pie crust. Mix dry ingredients together, then cut the shortening into the flour until blended. Add water and mix into dough, handling it as little as possible. On a lightly floured surface, roll your crust out to fit a 9” pie plate – you will have a bottom piece and a top piece. Place the bottom piece in your pie pan.
The secret to a great pie crust = precise measurements of ingredients. Or, skip this step altogether with a store-bought, frozen pie crust.
2. Wash berries, removing any stems or bad berries that the farm workers missed. Mix in flour and sugar with the fruit, and sprinkle with lemon juice.
3. Place blueberries in pan over bottom crust. Chop the butter up into small pieces and distribute evenly over top of pie.
4. Cover pie with top crust. Cut a few small air vents, and brush with the egg yolk and water mixture to make it shiny and pretty. Crimp the edges.
5. Bake pie for 35 minutes at 400 degrees, until top crust is golden brown. Let cool slightly, and enjoy!
Use ¼ cup sugar and ¼ cup of your favorite alternative sweetener.
If you like your pie less juicy and more gel-y, add a couple of teaspoons of cornstarch to the filling to firm things up.