Thursday, July 16, 2009

Blueberries, Pie Crust and My Nana

Well we are halfway through the month, so I will take the glass-is-half-full approach and say YEAH there is plenty of time left to celebrate National Blueberry Month. Did you know that it has been a national month since 1999? If not, you have a lot of blueberry eating to catch up with:)

I love blueberries and always have and a lot of that has to do with the associations I have with my maternal Nana, Dora Rusitzky. I spent at least one month with her every summer during my entire childhood. She lived in South Dartmouth, MA just a very short walk from the beach, so this was an ideal situation for a New York City girl. As an aside, I always find it funny when upon learning that I grew up in Manhattan, that people assume I never got out of the inner city. Nothing could be further from the truth and my New England summers were luxurious stretches of time.

Nana Dora was strict. No "noshing" (snacking) allowed, which was the horrible part. Somehow I got by, I think by getting snacks behind her back with the aid of my Mom. But the great part involved Nana's cooking. She was a great, intuitive cook and baker and we always ate well (at proper meals), taking advantage of fresh fruits and vegetables - some from her garden - at nearly every meal.

But it is her blueberry pie that I lived for. To this day, a taste of blueberry pie is the taste of summer. Nana Dora also had a special way of making her crust. Much to the consternation of her interested family members, she, like so many old-fashioned bakers of her generation, never measured a thing. Eventually I got the gist of her measurements, but it was also the ingredients that were interesting. She liked to make her crust with vegetable shortening. No butter at all. The blue Crisco can was a constant. And she used orange juice as her liquid. I had never met anyone else who did this, nor have I till this day. She liked the flakiness that the acidity in the juice gave the crust, and it added some flavor as well. Her crust also had a fairly large amount of salt, which she determined was necessary with the bland flavor of the shortening.

Nana's Pie Crust

Makes 1, double crust for a 9 1/2-inch deep dish pie

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup chilled vegetable shortening

2 to 4 tablespoons cold orange juice

Measure flour and salt into a mixing bowl and place in freezer for 15 minutes.

Scatter shortening over dry mixture in tablespoon-sized pieces. Cut in using a pastry blender until shortening pieces are the size of large, flat grapes. Do not overwork.

Sprinkle the orange juice over the flour/shortening mixture. Toss in with two forks or fingertips until dough begins to come together.

Scrape dough onto lightly floured tabletop and knead briefly, just to bring the crust together in a ball. Divide into two pieces, roll into balls and flatten into disks. Wrap both in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight. The crust may also be frozen for a week and defrosted in the refrigerator overnight.

Use as desired in your favorite double-crusted pie recipe....preferably blueberry.

When my friend's garden doesn't provide enough fruit, shopping at the farmer's market or the supermarket are fine options. This year, the Driscoll's blueberries in my market have been quite sweet and they even have an organic option.

Blueberry Pie

I prefer cultivated blueberries because that's what my Nana used. Please taste them first and adjust the sugar level. By the way, this makes a juicy pie; add more tapioca for a thicker, more "sliceable" filling texture.

Makes 1, 9 1/2-inch deep dish pie

Serves 8

1 recipe Nana's Pie Crust (see above)

8 cups blueberries, washed, sorted, any stems or leaves discarded

3/4 to 1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup instant tapioca

2 teaspoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into large pieces

Coat a Pyrex 9 1/2-inch pie plate with nonstick spray. Roll out bottom crust to a 12-inch round and fit into pie plate. Refrigerate while assembling remaining ingredients.

Place berries in mixing bowl with sugar, tapioca and lemon juice. Toss to mix and let sit 15 minutes.

Pile fruit into pie crust. Dot with butter. Refrigerate while rolling out top crust.

Roll out top crust to a 13-inch round and place on top of berries. Seal top and bottom crusts and fold under; crimp edges. Make a steam vent (or 2 or 3). Freeze for 15 minutes while you preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place pie on parchment lined baking sheet. Place pie in oven, turn oven down to 375 degrees F and bake for 45 minutes. Check to see how pie is browning. Continue to bake for approximately 15 more minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling.

Let cool on wire rack for 30 minutes to allow juices to thicken.

Serve warm, with or without Vanilla Ice Cream. Or, have a slice or breakfast with a dollop of thick Greek yogurt - my favorite summer morning treat.

Blueberries will be available for quite a while longer. Here is my friend's bush from just a few days ago. You can see that they have just begun to ripen.


Anonymous said...

I think that your Nana and I would really have gotten along well. I am a huge proponent of salt in all desserts--it makes such a huge flavor difference. I put it in everything I make. Literally.

And I know I'd love her blueberry pie!

Elise said...
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