Blueberry Pie

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(Note: I have updated this recipe to include Clear Jel, a thickener that solves the problem of runny fruit pies.)

Whether you’re great at making pies or not, there ought to be at least a few pie recipes in your book that you’re able to make with some confidence. I am no pro at pies and stick mainly to the non-fruit kind, since they’re not so messy — key lime, chocolate pecan, and buttermilk coconut pie are my favorites.

But fruit pies are pretty easy, too, and they’re classic. I make Rose Levy Beranbaum’s apple pie and this blueberry pie. The filling spills all over the place when I serve them, and I’m still working on that (suggestions are welcome), but I seem to be the only one who minds. Everyone always just digs right in.

It used to be so frustrating to spend time making a pie only to have the slices fall apart when I cut them. Was I missing some baking secret or special trick? A couple of online searches for “fix runny fruit pies” yielded a magic ingredient: Clear Jel. It’s a modified cornstarch that is added to the filling before baking and holds the filling together when slices are cut.

Clear Jel is available in big bags online. The smallest bag I found was one pound, and since only a few tablespoons are needed for each pie, I expect it to last a while. If you buy some, look for the instant kind.

Makes one 9-inch pie

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
3 Tbsp. instant Clear Jel
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
5 cups fresh blueberries
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 refrigerated pie crusts
1 tsp. granulated sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 400F (200C) degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the first nine ingredients, tossing gently with a rubber spatula. Fit one pie crust in a 9-inch pie plate according to package directions, carefully cutting off the overhanging crust. (Save the scraps.) Spoon blueberry mixture into pastry shell.

Use the scraps for the lattice on top of the pie. Gather them into a ball, then roll it out to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into strips and arrange in a lattice design on top of the pie. If you need more strips, use the other pie crust. I cut my strips to fit inside the pie shell; if you have enough dough, you can lay the ends over the edges of the pie shell and press them in. Then crimp or pinch the edge of the pie in whatever design you like.

Sprinkle the teaspoon of sugar on top of the pie, then place in the oven. Bake 40-45 minutes until golden, shielding the edges with strips of aluminum foil halfway through to prevent excess browning.

(Credit for this recipe goes to a lady named Nan Ferguson of Sandy Springs, Georgia, who submitted it to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about 20 years ago.)

Blueberry Harvest Squares

Alma, Georgia, is the state’s blueberry capital with an annual blueberry festival at the start of June. Diane Carter, a magistrate in Bacon County — where Alma is located — won the festival’s annual cooking contest with this recipe. I don’t know what year that would have been, since I clipped this from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution more than 10 years ago, but I give Diane full credit for coming up with a delicious dessert. I didn’t alter a thing when I made this recipe today and it managed to earn lots of raves.

This is a wonderful recipe for the summer, when blueberries are fresh and you may be looking for a new way to use them. It’s the kind of dessert that would be great for a bake sale or pot luck — though I warn you that it’s very gooey. The cooler they get, the easier it is to lift the bars, though you still have to be careful. And even then, it will still be gooey.

It’s easy to make and you can do each step while waiting for the previous one to finish. The hardest part is waiting until it cools to cut into it. And if you can’t wait, then forget a knife — just grab a spoon and dig in.

FOR THE CRUST:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
3/4 cup margarine

FOR THE FILLING:
2 cups blueberries
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar

FOR THE TOPPING:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 cup chopped almonds
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut

For the crust:
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees and butter the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch baking pan. Combine flour, salt, sugar, and chopped nuts. Cut in the margarine until it resembles fine crumbs. Press it into the bottom of the pan, coming slightly up the sides. Place it in the oven and bake about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and increase temperature to 375F degrees.

For the filling:
In a medium mixing bowl, combine blueberries, lemon juice, and flour. Place blueberries on top of the baked crust. Sprinkle with sugar. Return pan to oven and bake for 20 minutes.

For the topping:
In a medium mixing bowl, combine sugar, evaporated milk, egg, vanilla and almond extracts, nuts, and coconut. Mix well. Spoon over the baked blueberries. Return to oven and bake for another 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool before cutting.

Blueberry-Nectarine Smoothie

I’m back after a long absence, and I can explain. I’m pregnant and those food aversions hit me in the autumn, affecting my appetite in a big way. I didn’t know what I wanted to eat, other than fresh fruit and vegetables — and the odd vanilla shake. I certainly did not want to cook.

The due date is still about seven weeks away, and while the food aversions have mostly gone away, my appetite is still dictated by the baby. The other day I woke up and wanted nothing more than freshly squeezed, high-pulp orange juice for breakfast. But opening the refrigerator, I noticed a punnet of blueberries I had bought the other day and immediately knew what I wanted: a fresh smoothie. Here’s what I came up with, and it was delicious.

Put in a blender:
1/2 cup fat-free yogurt
1/2 cup orange juice
1 nectarine, chopped in chunks
Handful of ice cubes
170g fresh blueberries
Agave syrup, to taste (two thick swirls in the blender was the amount I used)

Blend together and enjoy. Makes 1 mega serving.

Birthday Fruit Salad

This recipe involved a lot of firsts, starting with the salad itself. I had never made one before. My mom makes an excellent fruit salad that I remember fondly from when I was growing up, and I wasn’t about to try to copy it. So I started with a recipe I already had on hand and adapted it based on what was available and what I wanted in the salad (and how much room we had in the fridge).

I had never cut open a whole watermelon before, nor had I ever cut fresh pineapple. Both were so easy and pleasing that I wondered why on earth I had waited so long to try them.

I served the fruit salad at my birthday party the other week and people really seemed to like it, so I’m guessing it’s good enough to share.

Serves 10

1 small watermelon
1 fresh pineapple
1 bunch of green grapes
1 small bunch of red grapes
100g or less blueberries
Agave syrup (or honey)

Use a melon baller to scoop out balls of watermelon, and place them in a large bowl.

To cut the pineapple, cut off the top and bottom, then stand it upright on a cutting board. Use a chopping knife to cut off the skin in thick strips, starting at the top and going straight down. Continue doing this until all the skin has been taken off, and use a paring knife to cut out any prickly knobs that are left behind. Then, keeping the pineapple upright on the cutting board, use the knife to cut off sections, leaving the core intact (discard the core later). Lay the sections down on the cutting board and cut chunks as desired.

Wash the grapes, cut each in half, and add to the bowl. For color, use more green grapes than red — maybe a ratio of 2 to 1.

Wash the blueberries and toss them in. Again, let color be your guide — add as many or as few as you think the salad needs to look good.

Drizzle agave syrup (or honey, if you don’t have agave) on top, then toss gently with a wooden spoon.

I think the recipe worked because of the nice mix of colors, the strong taste of each of the fruits, and the different shapes — but you could adapt it however you like. You could add cut strawberries for a burst of red, or cut sections of tangerine to add citrus. I avoided using apple or banana just because I wanted strong colors and tastes, but you could use them, too. (If you do use apple, dress the pieces with lemon juice before putting them in the bowl to prevent them from turning brown.) Other berries like blackberries would look spectacular, as would sections of kiwi. You could chop fresh mint and sprinkle it on top. Melons and mangoes don’t interest me so much, but they could also be a nice addition.