Friday, August 5, 2011

"Blueberries is one of the great forces o'good in the world" - James A. Owens

Late summer - and that's what we're at now, in case you blinked and didn't notice summer whiz by - is my favourite time of year.  There are many reasons why August is such a great month - cicadas are singing in the trees, meadows are in full bloom, back to school supplies are out, and nearly all of Ontario's produce is now available.  All summer long I await the arrival of two fruits more than any other: peaches and blueberries.  

Last week I paid a visit to Canaan Blueberries, which is located east of Ottawa.  It is a lovely, peaceful farm, boasting four varieties of highbush blueberries.  I have always enjoyed picking blueberries, I find them to be the most contemplative of berries.  I used to work on a berry farm when I was in high school, and the blueberry patch was my favourite.  Sitting quietly in the blueberry field, feeling the warmth of the sun pressing against me, listening to the birds chirping and the wind rustling through the trees, was like a kind of meditation.  In the blueberry field, my mind grows still (a rare occurrence), my heart swell with joy, and I am filled with appreciation. 

At Canaan Blueberries, the feelings of peace and happiness found me again.  With the branches bending under the weight of their fruit, picking was easy and plentiful - I came away with about 6 litres of blueberries!  A week later, less than a quart of berries remain.  So what did I do with them all?

Those blueberries lended their antioxident power to blueberry-peach smoothies, pancakes, turnovers, tarts, soy-yogurt breakfast parfaits, and one epic blueberry pie!  The blueberry pie is a combination of three separate from around the web, and let me tell you - it was friggin awesome.  

Epic Blueberry Crumble-top Pie

Flakey Vegan Pie Crust
From Veganbaking. Also what I used to make my turnovers and tarts. Excellent crust!
This recipe would do for a crust topped pie - since this pie uses a crumble topping, you only need to make HALF the recipe.  Or, make it all and use the leftover dough for tarts and other such goodies!

2 ½ cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
¾ cup cold margarine
½ cup cold vegetable shortening
¼ cup cold water
3 Tbsp cold vodka 

Sift together flour, sugar, and salt (I like to cheat-sift by whisking my flour mixtures.  It blends everything really well and breaks up clumps).  Cut the margarine and shortening into the flour with a pastry cutter until crumbly (if you don't have a pastry cutter, a wire whisk also works really well! Whisks ftw!).  Drizzle half the water and vodka and toss.  The original recipe says to use your fingers, but I used a spatula to keep the warmth of your hands from melting the margarine/shortening.  Add the rest of the water and vodka and mix again.  Press the dough into a ball and refrigerate while you get the filling and topping ready.

Why vodka? The alcohol inhibits gluten formation (the protein in wheat flour that causes the stretchy breadiness), and it also provides moisture that will quickly cook off, both contributing to perfect flakiness!

Blueberry Filling
I used the recipe from The Joy of Baking. You really can't ask for a more perfect blueberry filling.

4 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp lemon zest

Combine sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest.  Add the sugar mixture to the blueberries and toss to combine.

Chemistry lesson: Pectin is a polysaccharide found in fruit and is used as a gelling agent when making jam.  In the presence of an acid (in this case, lemon juice), pectin chains bind together. Water is bound together by sugar and the pectin chains, creating a thick gel.  Blueberries are naturally high in pectin, thus the addition of sugar and lemon juice makes for a fool-proof pie filling.

Walnut Crumb Topping
I found this crumb topping on Epicurious. I'll be using this recipe for a peach crisp in the near future!

3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp margarine, melted

Mix together all ingredients except margarine.  Add the melted margarine and mix with your fingers until crumbly.


Place oven rack at the lower third and preheat oven to 375 degrees.  

Roll out pastry.  The crust recipe suggests rolling it out between two sheets of parchment paper (this is a great idea as it won't add additional flour to the crust). I however, have always make pie crusts using the add flour as needed method, and that's what I did here.  It worked out wonderfully.  Pre-bake the empty crust for about 10 minutes.

Fill the bottom crust with the blueberry filling, then top with walnut crumb crust.  PLACE PIE ON TOP OF COOKIE SHEET LINED WITH FOIL!  If you choose not to put a cookie sheet under your pie, prepare for a sticky blueberry mess on the bottom of your oven (and subsequent oven smoke).  If you don't line your cookie sheet with foil, prepare to scrape sticky blueberry mess off your cookie sheet.  Consider yourself warned.

Bake for a good hour or so, or until the crumb topping is doing some serious browning and there's lots of filling bubbling up through the gaps in the crumble (and likely onto your cookie sheet).  Remove from oven, resist urge to shovel scalding hot pie into your mouth, allow to cool, impress your friends.

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