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Best Cook: Star-Spangled Berry Pie

Helene Harbage’s fingers nimbly pick over the quart of raspberries, selecting only the plumpest, most perfect of the lot, setting each one, bottom down, to dry on a clean towel. She turns next to the blueberries, choosing the biggest.

Helene is making her one-crust “Star-Spangled Berry Pie,” a favorite of hers that once won first prize at Vermont’s Shelburne Museum pie contest.

She made up the recipe herself. “I just entered for fun,” she says, eyes to the task. “It was the first time I’d ever entered a contest, first time I ever won.” She won a second contest the next year. Only two contests ever, as if to prove what her friends already knew. They say she could probably win any cooking contest she entered. But that’s not why she cooks. Helene cooks because she loves to.

Helene learned to cook at an early age, growing up in Norwich, Connecticut. Her mother was divorced, and so Helene took her turn cooking for the family, starting at the age of 8. “I made cookies, corn chowder, baked beans, salt-cod gravy,” she recalls.

Today Helene lives in a sweet 18th-century Cape on the main street of Francestown, New Hampshire. She and her husband, Charlie, raised their two children here. With its tinware lampshades, rough-hewn ceiling beams, framed samplers, braided rugs, cane-seat chairs, and oil lamps, Helene’s home could be the subject of a Grandma Moses painting. Except that you wouldn’t catch the aroma–like a French bakery early in the morning.

“I love to cook,” Helene says. “Whenever I get upset about something, I just go into the kitchen and start cooking. And then everything is all right.”

From Yankee‘s recipes: More summer fruit pies

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Updated Monday, June 22nd, 2009

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