I first attempted to make pie crust the summer I was twelve, as a surprise for my mother who was coming home from the hospital. The crust I made for that blueberry pie was beautiful, golden brown, with each strip of the lattice top perfectly even. It looked beautiful because I sat watching "The Price is Right" carefully shaping it, squishing up the dough when it was not perfect and rerolling it. It was the most beautiful pie crust, and made with love, but inedible. All that time I spent reworking the dough made it tough, the gluten forming in the dough erasing the delicate nature the crust should have had.
Shortly after I pulled the pie from the oven I left the apartment to have lunch with my mother's college physics professor. My brother decided to stay home for lunch, informing me he would have a piece of pie. When I returned home I found my pie with one slice neatly removed from it, and all of the filling carefully scraped out and eaten. My brother had helped himself to all the filling, leaving the crust, that he had decided was inedible, as an empty skeleton. I am sure that I screamed at him, and equally sure he really did not care.
When my mother returned home from the hospital she claimed to enjoy the chewy, tooth breaking crust. Every night after dinner she somehow consumed a slice of crust until the pie shell was gone. That memory of my mother and her love for me, because I highly doubt she really loved that crust, was from the last few months she was alive. All this is important because now I can make a really great pie crust, and she died 30 years ago today.
Without my mother, somehow it is true that I married a man my mother never met, that my mother never had the chance to meet my children, or even to know me as an adult. When I was younger my mother had shared her plans for when she was old, only using a wheelchair if it had a top speed of 70 miles an hour and teaching my children every curse word she could think of. Unfortunately she did not get to realize these plans, but Sebastian, my ten year old, tells me he knows and loves my mother from the stories about her I share. The stories of a woman who brought me to cooking even though she hated it, was a feminist and a humanist, had a love of the absurd and laughter, and always knew her own mind, even when it was different from what others thought. She knew that she wanted to be a physicist, and jumped through all the road blocks, including the ones set by her college, to obtain a PhD.
Every year I am aware of the anniversary of my mother's death. I have found that I am more sensitive on that day, that it really is not a day to tackle challenges. So this year I decided to intentionally notice the anniversary of her death, even if it is only with a blueberry pie. The filling of this pie is just as good as it was 30 years ago, good enough to scrape out and eat an entire pies worth. The crust, rolled with a light hand, working it as little as possible, is tender and flaky, with a flavor that will remind you of a shortbread cookie as it melts in your mouth. Nothing like the first time I tried to make this recipe.
Shortbread Pie Crust
Adapted from The Nero Wolfe Cookbook (My mother was a huge Nero Wolfe fan)
As this post points out, it is very important to work this crust as little as possible. Roll it in a ball and set it aside as soon as it comes together and roll it out gently, only gently pressing the crust together as needed, instead of rerolling it. Unlike many crusts this one is very delicate, so plan on a more rustic look and embrace it, instead of a perfect layered lattice crust. The delicate shortbread taste and texture are worth the extra care.
1 cup whole wheat pasty flour
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
vodka, kirsch, or ice water (I now use alcohol in place of the ice water because it reduces the formation of gluten. For a berry pie I use kirsch because it is a great flavor with the berries. However you do not always need the extra liquid)
Either sift the flours together into a large mixing bowl or fluff it up with a fork. Make a well in the center of the flours and place the egg yolks, sugar, salt, and butter cut into teaspoons or small chunks in the center. Use a pastry blender, 2 knives or your fingers to blend the wet flour with the other ingredients to form a stiff dough. If the dough is too dry add one or two drops of liquid of your choice (vodka, kirsch, or ice water). Roll the dough into a ball and wrap in foil or waxed paper. Put the dough in the fridge to rest for one hour.
Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Roll one half of the dough out for the bottom crust and line a 9 inch pie plate with it. Roll the other half of the dough out and cut into 1/2 inch strips to make the top lattice crust. Some pie makers get fancy and weave the top crust, I find this shortbread crust is too delicate so I just lay all the strips down in one direction and then lay the other strips down on top going the other way.
Adapted from The Nero Wolfe Cookbook
When I was a child we would ask in restaurants if the blueberry pie was runny. When they proudly said no we would often, disappointedly, choose to order something else. If you don't like your blueberry pie runny consider adding another tablespoon of flour or corn starch.
5 cups blueberries
6 Tbsp sugar (1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp)
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbsp unbleached all purpose flour
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 400°. Pick over the berries and remove any stems, leaves, unripe, or squishy berries. Mix the berries with the sugar, salt, flour and lemon juice before pouring into the bottom crust in the pie plate. Dot the berries with the butter and layer the lattice crust on top. Brush the crust with milk, dump the extra milk into the pie before baking for 40 minutes, or until the top crust is golden brown.