Friday, June 26, 2009

Blueberry Summer

Every summer when we were small, my mother would take my brother, Chip, and me blueberry picking. If you shop for blueberries in August in almost any area of the country, you will find blueberries from Grand Haven, Michigan. (I’ve even bought Grand Haven blueberries at the Fairway market on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.) Reindeer’s farm in Grand Haven. That’s where we picked them. Sometimes we’d go with another family, but often we’d just wake up, discover it was a great day for blueberry picking, and we’d jump in the car, Mom, Chip and me. Rereading Bruce Degen's Jamberry took me right back to those childhood outings.

We’d search the blueberry bushes for the plumpest, juiciest-looking prospects, leaving the smaller ones to ripen for someone else. They took on a rich cornflower blue color when they were ripe, while the smaller ones had more of a purple tint to them. After awhile (and if you sampled one here or there), you got the hang of it. We’d each fill a bucket full of berries. It seemed like we would never run out of them. We washed them all and froze some. We’d have them on cereal, Mom would make blueberry pancakes and blueberry coffee cake. And the frozen ones would keep for a midwinter treat.

Years later, when Chip and I were in our teens, and our Grandma Petie (that’s my dad’s mom) was widowed, she’d come and stay with us summers, and she’d make blueberry pie from scratch. No one could make a pie crust like hers. She grew up in New England, and she’d exclaim over the quality of Michigan blueberries: “I’ve never seen berries so big! They look like huckleberries!” Every summer she’d seem delighted anew. She’d make the dough and let it rise, roll it out and lay it in the pie tin just so, pile on the blueberries with just a bit of sugar (no corn syrup), then overlay the top crust and gently crimp the sides of the pie, to close it up. She’d end with the ever-important fork holes in a neat pattern on the top.

I can’t tell you how many times I watched her do this, and yet I do not have a recipe for my Grandma Petie’s blueberry pie. I have collected recipes from other friends who are masters in the kitchen, and I’ve tried one or two, but none tastes like hers. Maybe this summer I’ll begin a pie-making quest, to try and recreate a crust as close as I can to hers. But in the meantime, I can still enjoy the blueberries, every small burst of flavor in my mouth taking me back to those carefree Michigan summers picking blueberries.

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