Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summer Blues

I travel to Maine twice a year to teach, and like most New Yorkers, when I'm out of the city, I love to visit sprawling suburban supermarkets. I love the sensation of strolling down an aisle wide enough to fit two, count 'em, two shopping carts at once. I love the ampleness of the displays, the varieties of consumer products I hadn't known existed. I love how clean suburban supermarkets seem, how enticing and brightly lit they are.

In Maine, I tend to go to a supermarket called Hannaford's, which publishes a small cooking magazine that you can get for free if you spend more than twenty-five bucks, and it's there that I discovered this delicious blueberry pie recipe. Fair warning, the recipe would probably be even better with wild Maine blueberries, which are tiny, sweet, and have a subtle cinnamon flavor in my opinion. But made with blueberries from my local fruit cart on the corner, this was still one of the best blueberry pies I've ever had.

The recipe comes from Melanie Chandler of Cherryfield, Maine, who says she'd developed it in her head for about four decades. All that planning paid off when she won first prize in the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival Cooking Contest two years running (2008 and 2009). I'm impressed.

I was even more impressed by the final result when I made the pie recently. As Melanie points out in her Hannaford Magazine profile, the secret is the use of turbinado sugar. (You can also use demerara, muscovado or "raw" sugar, which has an almost identical flavor. You basically want natural brown sugar (not the kind that is refined white sugar to which molasses is added and is so good in banana bread or on oatmeal). The raw sugar has a deeper, muskier flavor than refined which is a nice match for the blueberries' sweetness.

The ingredients and preparation are simple. If you don't like the shortening in the crust, just substitute butter.

Melanie A. Chandler's First Prize Blueberry Pie
(adapted from Hannaford's Magazine)

Filling:

8 cups blueberries (I used 3 pints and was fine)
1 cup turbinado sugar (I used demerara because I happened to have some)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup corn starch

Crust:

2 2/3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup turbinado sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
1 cup solid vegetable shortening (I put mine in the freezer before I use it)
6 to 8 tbsp cold water

1. In a large stockpot, combine all filling ingredients and heat, stirring, until thickened to a pudding-like texture, about 15 minutes. Pour filling into a mixing bowl to cool while you make the crust.
2. Preheat oven to 400. In a food processor, mix flour, salt, and sugar, then pulse to add shortening until dough is fine and crumbly. (This can also be done by hand with a pastry blender or a fork and knife.) Add water until a rough dough forms.
3. Divide dough in half and pat into two disks, handling as little as possible. (The warmth form your hands can affect the texture of the pastry.) On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk to fit a 9-inch pie pan and place in the pan. Pour reserved filling into crust. (N. B. the original recipe calls for a DEEP-DISH pan, but I just used a regular one.)
4. Roll out second disk of dough into a circle large enough to cover the pie. Place over filling and crimp edges. Cut 6 to 8 slits in the top and sprinkle with about 1 tsp sugar. Bake about 35 minutes until crust turns pale gold. Let the pie cool at least 2 hours before slicing so filling can set.

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