Blueberry Pie

This was my very first blueberry pie. Isn’t it lovely?

(Anecdotal note: I was chastised, in jest, a while back, for claiming that something I prepared leaned heavily toward deserving the adjective delicious. But I’ve never had a problem saying that something I make is good. Likewise, I don’t hesitate to bring out such negative descriptors as bad, disappointing, or even disastrous. I suppose I, in some way, place a comfortable distance between myself and what I make — usually, because it’s not my original recipe, so I’m not to thank. Or, it’s entirely due to the quality of ingredients, which I didn’t create. I will allow, that in some cases, claiming the success of a food before your guests try it could set you up for failure. And maybe, in those cases, I should keep my mouth shut. But at the moment of note, I was declaring the utter fantastic-ness of mango sorbet and toasted coconut ice creams served together — and, on this note, I must claim complete objectivity. If anyone were to taste the combo and disagree, I would have to write off their tastebuds as insufficient.)

So, the pie. We picked blueberries a couple of weekends ago, the kids and I. On this adventure, I learned a few things:

  1. Picking a gallon of blueberries is nowhere near as easy as picking a gallon of strawberries.
  2. Two-year olds are not much help. And are, rather, a hindrance. Especially when they decide to eat a white-pink blueberry.
  3. Blueberry bushes are at exactly the wrong height for extended reaching when your body is clearly showing the signs of having entered your third trimester of pregnancy.
  4. There is a reason that the memory of picking blueberries at my grandmother’s house as a child has always included the tinge of general grumpiness.

Thanks to the help of a friend and her older children, we finally filled our bucket. I ended up with a few quart bags of frozen berries, and saved enough fresh to make a cobbler and this pie. I was (of course) inspired by the last issue of Cook’s Illustrated; if I was going to use 6 cups of hard-won fresh blueberries to make a pie, it was going to be this one.

And I think that it was near-perfect (ahem… if I do say so myself). A hefty dose of zest and juice gave it a wonderful lemony aroma and flavor, which kept it from being too sweet and one-dimensional. And the texture — made by using grated apple in place of part of the traditional measure of tapioca — held together enough to cut stable slices while not being close to gummy or gelatinous.

The crust, though. It was both flaky and tender. But the war that was waged in my kitchen for that crust — I don’t know if I can do it again. The recipe called for the ironically-named “Fool-proof pie dough” that Cook’s has published before. This was the first time I’d made it, and I guess that if this recipe is an official measure, I must now be called a fool. The process flies in the face of all pie-dough-making knowledge that I’ve acquired to this point. It was kind of like trying to drive backwards, or write with your left hand (if you are, like me, right-handed). The dough was made in a food processor, and that I’ve done before. But you actually allow the fat and flour to become fully, unapologetically incorporated. No pea-sized clumps here — this was a mass of cookie dough. And then, you stir in enough water and vodka to form a wet, soggy dough (the vodka keeps the dough from becoming tough, which is what you’re avoiding by overmixing when making a traditional crust). I kept repressing my doubt and confusion, trusting the author. But when it came time to roll out the dough, both my confidence and the expletives started to fly. It was impossible to roll and get into the pie pan without it falling apart. So I resorted to actually rolling both crusts twice each — which normally makes a pie crust turn into a thin hockey puck. I stuck it in the oven, cursed one last time for good measure, and hoped for the best.

And, I mean look at it. That crust gave me the bird. Outside of having the slightest hint of that shortening flavor (I prefer the flavor, while not the texture, of all-butter crusts), it was really right-on. The ideal encasement for 6 cups of freshly-baked blueberries. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

Crépes. Because there’s nothing like pondering a thoroughly French food on the Fourth of July.

Back in the blissful days of our first year of marriage, Tim and I used to spend summer weekend nights strolling through downtown Asheville. We frequented a few spots that summer, one being the delightful Jack of the Wood pub. We’d order our pints of Green Man ale and sit outside, watching all the people that used to make Asheville just so Asheville (there are a few stragglers left, but the atmosphere downtown has lost a bit of its eclectic charm as it has become more prohibitively expensive to live there).

The other place we loved from the depths of our lazy summertime souls was the Crépe Window. No, that wasn’t it’s official name, I can’t recall what it was. But it was a tiny shotgun place in an old building downtown, with a service window open to the street. In that window worked a bona-fide Frenchman, complete with beret and boatnecked, black and white striped shirt (I’m going to assume he was playing up a role with those choices). There, through the open window, you could both order and watch him expertly craft the crépe of your choice. He served both savory and sweet, but we only opted for the desert crépes. He offered fruit and whipped cream, Nutella and bananas, anything you could imagine. But my very favorite was simply sugar and lemon — it allowed the tenderness of the crépe to speak for itself, while still amply satisfying my after-dinner sweet tooth.

There were nights that our budget didn’t allow the splurge of downtown desert, and then, eventually and sadly, the crépe man was no more (not in a metaphysical sense, he just closed up shop). By this point, we were virtually addicted, and were forced to set up our own personal crépe stand — in our wee little kitchen, armed with nothing more than The Joy of Cooking and a 10-inch anodized saute pan.

What did we discover? Crépes aren’t all that hard to make. They are simply a mixture of eggs, flour, milk, butter, a little water, and sugar or salt (depending on their final calling). You throw everything into a blender or food processor, give it a whirl, and then let it sit for half an hour (this lets the flour absorb the liquids, and the gluten to settle down a bit, while you sit and dream up toppings). And that crépe pan that you didn’t register for as a wedding gift? It’s not necessary. You can use an 8″ or 10″ skillet — as I mentioned, we used our Calphalon anodized, but I’m guessing that a nonstick pan would work too. (I can’t speak for stainless, however, so try that at your own risk.) You just let your pan heat up, smear some butter on it, and pour on a few tablespoons of the batter. Pick up the pan, swirl the batter around to coat the bottom, and then let it cook. After a minute or two, the bottom is brown, and you can flip it to brown the other side. The first one is usually the ugliest, and they get easier and prettier as you go. Stack them up with sheets of waxed paper in between, or just eat them right as they come off the pan. And in case you can’t get through all 10 crépes, you can freeze them for a quick fix to a future craving.

I had these delicate pancakes on the brain because we made savory ones for dinner earlier this week. A friend gave me a subscription to Eating Well magazine, and the last issue had a recipe for Summer Vegetable Crépes. The ingredients called for storebought, but they’re just so easy to whip up, and I had all the goods in my kitchen. The filling consisted of sautéed zucchini, green beans, corn, ricotta and monterey jack cheeses. They were really quite satisfying. And — even though I had made savory crépes, I still snuck into the kitchen at about 9 o’clock, grabbed the lone leftover pancake, smeared it with a little butter, sprinkled on a little sugar, and squeezed a few drops of lemon juice over the top. Folded it up, and ate the whole thing in a matter of a few bites (saving just one for Tim).

So with that, I’ll bid you all a happy Independence Day. And in the same breath, say thank you to France.