Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bush to Bucket to Pie. Blueberries in Summer.

The summer road trip is getting to be a tradition in our family. Near the end of June, we pile everyone in the car and head in whatever direction my corporate apartment happens to be. For a glorious couple of months, I get to read bedtime stories to my kiddos on weekdays, avoid airports entirely, and sleep past 4AM on Monday Mornings. For the last few years, my client was in Tallahassee FL, so we encamped there, with weekend jaunts to Disney or St. George Island. This year: Lansing, MI, and our weekend jaunts are both more pedestrian, and, frankly, more fun.

Last weekend, we stayed out in Spring Lake with my mom, right up the street from Blueberry Hill U-Pick farm. Farm may be a bit of an overstatement – Blueberry Hill is maybe an acre of bushes tucked behind a neatly manicured ranch house, on the edge of a residential neighborhood. It’s an idyllic setting, and when we showed up on Saturday morning we had the run of the lush blueberry bushes, which were drooping with enormous blue spheres of sweet juicy goodness.  We snacked profusely, thinking of Sal and his plink-plank-plunk, and stopped when we got to a bucket full – about 2 gallons – costing us all of $10. For those keeping track at home, this is about what it costs to cast a sidelong glance at Disney.

That afternoon, we headed back across the state to Lansing and got busy in my little kitchen.

First thing to note. A bucket is a mountain of blueberries. It doesn’t seem like a lot when you’re surrounded by a near infinite supply hanging off of summer-green bushes, but put it on the counter, and it’s a little shocking. Enough for a pie? Yes, I’d say so.

I don’t have any cookbooks here, but I do have my trusty Bittman To Go app, and on it was something close to this:

The Crust. 
- 2 sticks of butter, cut into about 16 cubes each.
- 2 cups white flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- A little icewater (about 3 tbs)

That’s it. I dropped the butter in the flour, sugar and salt, and then went at it. No tabletop appliances here, so I tried it with a pair of knives, but the better approach was just to break up the pieces of butter with my fingers. I worked for a few minutes, stuck the whole bowl in the freezer to cool off, and then worked it again. Main goal is to keep the butter pieces small, but distinct, so things stay flaky and delish. Once it seemed well enough integrated, I added a couple of tablespoons of ice water, and worked it into a ball. Wax paper and washi tape was decent substitute for plastic wrap, and I popped the whole kit and caboodle in the fridge for about an hour to cool down again.

While the crust was chilling, into another bowl wen
- 5 cups fresh-picked blueberries
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon of lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons corn starch (should have used 4, more about that below)

And by “worked”, I mean combined everything and tossed, again, with fingers.

We rolled out the top and bottom crusts, saving enough for my daughters to make their own mini pastries to bake alongside the main attraction. With the oven up at 450, we laid the first crust into a nine inch pie pan, piled in our blueberry mix, dotted with butter, crimped on the top crust and cut a few holes (I used Sugar Mama's Triple Berry pattern as an inspiration). It sat for a @morningblue photo op for a few minutes, received a quick butter brush and sprinkle of sugar, and then we popped it into the middle of the oven, dropping the temp back down to 350 as soon as the oven door was shut.

An hour later we were rewarded with a bubbling gooey mess of a blueberry pie. We tried to wait, honest, we did, but we didn’t wait long enough and were content eating a rather soupy mess of sweet luscious blueberry pie and Hudsonville vanilla ice cream.

For the next two days, we hacked away at it, relishing the way the summertime in Michigan tastes.

The side note regarding the corn starch: After the pie cooled it stayed pretty soupy. This was not all bad (with ice cream, it was actually kind of nice), but a pie of a more traditional consistency would have required about twice the thickener.

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