Week 9 - My, My Miss American Pie
by Lynley Jones
Comin' To America
"Finally!" you may be saying. When some of you began this pie journey with me, you may have been expecting fruit pies all along. I totally understand.
At long last, in our final week of People Like Pie, we've arrived in the good old U S of A, where fruit pies reign supreme. And while it's easy for us Americans to think we're the center of the known world, culinary history usually teaches us otherwise.
Beginning At the Beginning
It's tempting to begin with a nod to the English immigrants who brought pie-making to North America, but actually, we need to start earlier. Long before the first European set food in the Americas, this land was home to people who knew how to tame and sustain the wild abundance of fruits, berries and squashes that would one day make their way into our pies. Pumpkins and other types of squash were revered as one of the "three sisters" crops, with a female spirit that responded best to careful nurturing by women farmers.
Wild berries, including the blueberries in today's recipe, grew in abundance. While native Americans did not bake pies (no wheat and no ovens), they certainly did enjoy eating berries.
Plenty of Plenty
It's easy to forget during tough times (and during campaign season), but we are blessed with unbelievable abundance on this continent. We always have been. Newcomers have been astounded by the unfathomable riches of this place from the beginning. The pilgrims who hosted the "first" Thanksgiving in 1621 wrote home bragging about the plentiful venison, ducks and geese that regularly graced their tables. When Hernan Cortez first entered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, his men were stupified by the endless array of valuable and delectable things in the marketplace, more than anything they had ever seen. Our patriotic song "America The Beautiful" literally sings the praises of the bounty in this amazing land.
Fruit pies seem to embody this abundance. Why worry about preserving last night's leftover roast in a pie, when there's plenty more where that came from? Who needs a utilitarian hand pie when we can have fresh, juicy berries literally bursting out of the crust with their gooey, audacious sweetness? While hard work and thrift certainly have their own honored place in American culture, we have to admit we also have a tendency toward a bit of an arrogant swagger now and then.
Oh, you have meat in your pie? I've got fruit in my pie. That's right, fruit.
Juicy Blueberry Goodness
The blueberry filling in the week's recipe is adapted from a recipe at America's Test Kitchen. The folks there are brilliant at figuring out every last detail of making great food even better.
In this case, they tackled the challenge of making a blueberry filling that will "set up" nicely, without turning into a flavorless, gummy goo. Corn starch and tapioca are commonly used to help thicken fruit pie fillings, but using too much of them can make the filling unpleasantly thick.
Pectin is naturally found in apples, and contributes a gelling effect in pies. So the folks at America's Test Kitchen discovered that adding a grated apple to the pie helps the blueberries set up with a minimum of tapioca. Lots of flavor, and lots of juice.
Our Star-Spangled Blueberry Pie is proud of its American heritage. Instead of a standard top crust, the top crust of this pie is made of stars.
Use star-shaped cookie cutters to cut stars from rolled-out pastry. Start by covering the top of the pie with overlapping larger stars. Don't leave any gaps around the outer edge of the pie, but do leave small gaps in the center. These gaps will widen during cooking and act as steam vents for all that abundant blueberry goodness.
When you've covered the top with large stars, brush them with egg wash, then follow with smaller stars in a decorative pattern. Sprinkle with sugar, slide it into the oven and get ready for unbelievably juicy blueberry goodness.
Pictures From Cooking Class
Each week, I am honored to bring all this sophisticated deliciousness to local public school children. Check out the pictures from these cooking classes.