Bliss, Blueberry Pie and James McNair
I bought a flat (6 pints) of blueberries this past weekend and all I could think was BLUEBERRY PIE! There is nothing, absolutely nothing, for me like homemade pie. I can’t cheat my way through it and wouldn’t want to anyway. It has been ridiculously hot and humid here in South Jersey (up into the 100’s) so that should tell you something if I’m that motivated to even turn on the oven. But the blueberries beckoned and am I insane?! Yes, mad for homemade pie, she said. Confession: the big gaping hole in the pie in the photo is what I had for breakfast. Listen, if I’m going to go through this much trouble, I want it for breakfast, lunch AND dinner. Yes, I do and yes, I did.
James McNair taught me to bake pies. For some reason, pies were not in my family’s baking repertoire. In fact, I have a childhood memory of one actually being thrown out the window by my mother. Even at a young age, I knew that was very, very wrong. How could she do that to a blueberry pie?! Frustration, she said. Sacrilege, I said. Back in the days of yore when I started baking, before YouTube, etc., there was James McNair’s Pie Cookbook:
Glossy pages with beautiful photographs and step-by-step photo instructions. I love you James McNair. Since I was 23 in 1989, the year this book was published, I’ll admit that some of the “80’s New Wave” stylings going on were very attractive and appealing. Let’s just say I made my first pie and none of it went out the window. It was a gorgeous peach pie and pure bliss.
There was something kind of weird and cosmic going on recently. I turned on the tv and there was James McNair! He was judging a “Build a Better Burger” contest on Food Network. He could have been judging “Building the Seven Wonders of the World with Legos” for all I cared. It was him. I stood there like a lunatic screaming at the tv, at my god of pies, “thank you James, I love you James”!
Well worth the work!
Makes one 9″ double-crust pie
Basic Pie Crust:
I should note that I have tried 3 different versions of pie crust: all butter, all shortening and a combination of both. I am a fan of the butter and shortening version for flavor and all-around flakiness. Also, of all the thickeners I’ve tested for the filling: cornstarch, flour and ground tapioca, tapioca is by far the best. It preserves the appearance and flavor of the fruit the best while thickening the juice without being gummy.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 12 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 4 tablespoons cold, all-vegetable shortening, cut into cubes
- 6-8 tablespoons ice water
Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl and mix well. Cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture using a pastry blender, 2 butter knives or your fingertips as quickly as possible until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture and combine with the flat side of a spatula or your fingertips just until the dough holds together. If the dough seems too crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Divide the dough into two balls and flatten each into a disk. Dust disks lightly with flour, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days, before rolling.
- 3 pints (6 cups), rinsed and picked over, blueberries
- 3/4 to 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons ground tapioca
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into small pieces
Combine the sugar, nutmeg and ground tapioca in a large bowl. Add the blueberries and lemon juice to the sugar mixture and stir until the berries are coated and none of the sugar is dry. Adjust the oven rack to center position, place a sheet pan on the rack (to catch drips) and heat to 400 degrees.
Remove one piece of dough from the fridge. If stiff and very cold, let stand until dough is cool but malleable. Roll one disk between 2 sheets of wax or parchment paper (much easier rolling method!) into a circle larger than pie pan. Peel away top sheet and flip into 9″ pie pan. Remove the second sheet and gently press dough into sides of pan, leaving a portion hanging over the lip of the pan all the way around.
Turn the fruit mixture, including juices, into the pie shell. Scatter the butter pieces over the fruit. Refrigerate until ready to top with remaining dough.
Roll out second dough disk, between 2 sheets of wax or parchment paper, peel away the top sheet, flip and place over filling. Trim top and bottom edges to 1/2″ beyond pan lip.Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that the folded edge is flush with pan lip. Flute edging or press with fork tines to seal. Cut 4 slits on dough top with a sharp knife to release steam during baking. If the pie dough is very soft, place in freezer for 10 minutes before baking. Beat 1 egg with 2 tablespoons water for an egg wash. Lightly brush this all over the top of the pie. It really does make a difference.
Place the pie on the baking sheet and bake until the top crust is golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer.
Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool to almost room temperature so juices have time to thicken. If you can wait that long, probably 1 to 2 hours.
Credits: James McNair’s Pie Cookbook, The Best Recipe and Joy of Cooking.