My apologies to Oscar Hammerstein for mashing up his lyrics to “I’m In Love With a Wonderful Guy.”
It struck again last night, that hollow deprived feeling after a dandy dinner because I wanted something sweet — a mere ten days since I last ate a dessert that wasn’t a muskmelon. It wasn’t some dizzy vague vision of dessert last night;I knew what I wanted.
I wanted a big slice of blueberry pie, a la mode.
I confess that I had to hit my tiny, treasured stash of sleeping pills last night in order to banish the vision of that drippy purple slice of perfection. I spent the next six hours chasing something in dreams that included as assembly of the least likely assortment of people I know, and people I don’t. (I mean Russell Brand?) My first thought at waking was: I still want a piece of blueberry pie.
When “All Things Considered” commenced I still wanted blueberry pie, and did what any sensible woman would: I bought a couple of pints of blueberries. Obese blueberries from Canada, looking good and on sale. But those big blue fatties always make me sad; they weren’t real blueberries.
In August in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec we all went blueberry picking. Not at a U-Pick, but in the woods a few blocks away. The patches varied from year to year, in location and in quantity, but we always found them. After stuffing our faces with the tiny lovelies (about three times as big as a peppercorn) we’d run home, grab a bowl, and return to the silent shady patch for some serious picking, One August my Gammy, Frances Henrietta Moss McArthur, was with us on a visit and when she saw our bowl of blueberries she grabbed the biggest saucepan in the house and demanded to be taken to our sylvan blueberry patch.
She provided my brother and me with a couple of rinsed out sandbox pails and we set off those few blocks. When she saw our private blueberry patch, she squealed. And she picked. She made us pick. We returned home several times to dump our produce into my mother’s stockpot, and she led us back to the patch on a forced march. Trust me, Napoleon would have reached Moscow if my Grandmother was his Field Marshall. Ian and I were longing for a trip through the sprinkler, or an hour in the cool of the basement rec room, watching Roger Moore as “Ivanhoe.” But Gammy’s joy in the work couldn’t be denied, and we picked until we dropped.
My grandmother was a journalist, a legal secretary and a church organist. She excelled at all of those callings. But she was the châtelaine of a working farm, entrusted with putting produce up (or as we say in Southwestern Ontario “Putting things down.”) cooking for hired men and thrashings. I remember Woodstock weekend, when my older friends were reveling in sex, drugs, rock and roll and mud — I, with my family, were eating pot roast and chocolate layer cake in her apartment in Glencoe, Ontario.
After our afternoon as my grandmother’s indentured blueberry picking servants, the world was All Good. Gammy made a pie, from wild blueberries. It remains, for me, the apotheosis of the blueberry pie.
I’m sorry I have belly button sized blueberries, but you know, I’m still a dab hand at pastry. I decided on half and half butter/shortening fat for the crust, because I think a traditional North American pie needs the tenderness of Crisco, but profits from the taste and structure of butter. It was hot in the kitchen, despite the A/C, and I think my hurry and sweat resulted in a funkier looking pie than I’d planned. But I just snatched a bit of the crust, and it’s tender, tasty and good.
What I’m proudest of is that I got over our silly savory cook prejudice about dessert. This pie will not make us fat. It will be good for breakfast, and heaven knows everyone from the FDA to Oprah to New England Journal of Medicine has told us of the antioxidant properties of blueberries. Along with corn, blueberries are the essence of August. I’m not as normal as blueberry pie, but who cares?