Call me an old codger if you want, but serving homemade pie used to be such an uncomplicated affair: Pie makes grand entrance. Proud baker blushes and fusses amid a chorus of oohs and aahs. Pie is sliced, ice cream scooped, faces are stuffed. The only acceptable noise thereafter would have been an appreciative grunt or groan or heavy handed compliment.
But that was then and this is now, and serving pie – especially around holidays like the 4th of July when far flung relatives convene for family reunions – is no longer so uncomplicated, is it?
Someone has a problem with wheat (or salt, Crisco, butter, or sugar…) Take you pick.
The renegade neice eats only organic food grown within a few miles of her home – a locavorganic, she proudly calls herself.
There are three fledgling vegans among the assembled, two others on a juice fast, and one who has sworn off desserts until all offshore drilling comes to a halt around the globe. At least that’s what you think his tattoo says.
Jeez, Louise! What’s a poor pie maker to do?
Stay true to your pie values, my friend. But…at times like these, a little accommodation – a nod toward pie wholesomeness – can go a long way, help you reach across the aisle and break down party fences.
Indeed, you’d be shocked at how many otherwise staunch vegans, hardcore juicers, and locavorganic types will fold like a rusty lawn chair when you launch this one simple question from your arsenal: How about a piece of my blueberry ginger pie with three-grain butter crust?
Three-grain butter crust. It just sounds so doggone virtuous that the words fall like magic pixie dust on the ears of renegades, hipsters, and dieters of every stripe. And that’s a whole lotta folks.
I go way back with this and its extended family of grainy crusts, so let me give you the lay of the land and a sense of direction here. (And by the way, if you decide to use another pastry, the blueberry filling is wonderful in any crust.)
We begin by making oatmeal flour from old fashioned rolled oats. This is not, technically speaking, the way store bought oat flour is made, but it’s just right for our purposes. The rolled oats are chopped in the blender; it takes a little doing to get them finely ground, but be patient.
We use a hybrid method for preparing the pastry, a combination of the food processor and the hand method. The fat is cut into the dry ingredients with the machine, then the mixture is transferred to a bowl and the water is added by hand, minimizing the possibility of overworking and toughening the dough. (It’s also easy to make entirely by hand; directions are included below in the recipe.)
The combination of oat flour and cornmeal makes this dough blessedly simple to handle and roll. You will wish all of your doughs were as cooperative as this.
As for texture, the crust has a tad more whole grain bite than your typical pie pastry made with all all-purpose flour. It’s slightly nubby, but still quite tender and flaky. Then there’s that ever-so-subtle oatmeal flavor, and equally subtle cornmeal crunch. You know you’re eating something wholesome. You just never imagined it could taste this good.
All in all a splendid July 4th dessert, with or without the crystallized ginger, a harmonious grace note that blends beautifully with the berries.
Now, having just come off a week of blueberry pie making, allow me to offer this refresher on the subject in case it’s been a while.
The Ten Principles of Blueberry Pie Mastery
1. Blueberries stain; aprons are advised.
2. Pick over your berries carefully and rinse them well. Better you find that stray pebble yourself than learn about it from your neighbor’s lawyer.
3. Blueberries are an awesome antioxidant, but a slouch in the sweetness department, so don’t skimp on the sugar.
4. Mash 1 cup of your blueberries with some of the sugar before adding the rest of the fruit. The resulting liquid will help kickstart the cooking of the berries inside your pie.
5. Don’t be greedy and add too many berries to your pie (like I always do.) The top of the berries should be more or less even with the top of your pan.
6. If you disregard #5 and fill your pan too high, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and slide it onto the shelf below the pie to catch the inevitable drips.
7. Five cups of berries will require 3 to 4 tablespoons of cornstarch for thickening. Use the lesser amount if you like a little juiciness in your filling; the greater amount for more firmness.
8. Don’t forget the lemon juice and zest. They’re BFFs with the blueberries and very sad and lonely and a little bland without them.
9. Cut out a small (1-inch) circle of dough from the center of the top pastry before topping the pie. When you can see the juices bubbling up there, you know your pie is done. (Watch this in the accompanying video.)
10. Every blueberry pie – indeed, every fruit pie – has that moment of absolute perfection, somewhere between 3 and 5 hours out of the oven, when the fruit has jelled just enough and the crust at its flaky apogee. Serve the pie then. And have a fabulous 4th of July week.
PS – We’ll be giving you periodic updates, but at this point we still do have some slots open for The Pie Academy’s first and much anticipated Lowcountry Pie Getaway this October in Savannah. If you’re interested, I wouldn’t wait too much longer to get in touch. Just send Bev an email – firstname.lastname@example.org -and she’ll get you everything you need to know. We hope to see you there!