Best Cook: Prizewinning Blueberry Pie
When Mary Blenk was 8, she joined 4-H–not for the animals but for the cooking. “We did a lot of cooking, and I got a lot of cookbooks from 4-H,” she recalls. That same year, she entered her first competition at the Union Fair, about 25 miles from her home in St. George, Maine. She didn’t win, but she kept trying. She’s 56 years old now, with 92 ribbons and many trophies to show for her culinary efforts.
Today, in the kitchen of her Cumberland home, Mary is making her prize-winning Maine wild-blueberry pie. Retired from the post office, soon she and her husband will move back to her childhood home in St. George. Just about everything is packed, including hundreds of cookbooks and the baking ribbons and trophies that have distinguished her life. “I’ve just had fun finding contests wherever I can. Once you get the bug, it’s hard to sign off,” she says. “When I go to these contests, it’s so great because everyone there loves to talk about food. It’s one of the ways I’ve learned. The judges have so much knowledge. And it’s great to have their praise.” One comment pleased her the most: “Everything a blueberry pie should be.”
With a pastry blender, Mary works shortening into the flour for the crust. The dough rolls out softer than silk. “It’s what I know,” Mary says, her eyes sparkling behind rimless glasses as she works. She gently lays the big circle of crust into the pie plate and trims the edges. She uses frozen berries, summer and winter. “They make a better pie,” she says. “The berries are different every year. I always make a few pies first before I enter, just to test the berries.”
She takes pinches of leftover dough, rolls them out, and fashions them into berries and leaves, scoring the leaves with her paring knife. With an artist’s touch, she gilds the top of the crust. Satisfied, she lifts her pie and tucks it into the oven. “My mother always said, ‘You feed people and you make them happy.’ I’ve found that’s true,” she says.
It’s hard to wait for the pie to cool, but when it does, it’s juicy, not runny, the berries sweet (yet just a bit tart), the crust flaky and light: everything a blueberry pie should be.
Note: Blueberries’ taste will differ from year to year and batch to batch, so sample your berries and adjust the amount of sugar accordingly; use the full cup only if they’re very tart. Also, for rolling out the dough, Mary uses a pastry cloth on the work surface, and she covers her rolling pin in cloth as well. Mary makes an all-shortening crust; if you prefer butter, substitute 1/3 cup unsalted butter for half the shortening.
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