May berries are tart, almost crunchy, quite a bit larger than their wild blueberry counterparts. A heavy hand with sugar and spice doesn’t improve the flavor of the fruit; it only masks what you really want in a blueberry pie- a forkful of summer. Unfortunately, in our haste to jump start the season, the pie that takes center stage on many picnic tables is often over-sweetened, heavy with spices, and more puddle than slice. Blueberry pie can be hard to do.
Among bakers, the sweetening/thickening debate circling a blueberry pie plate is as contentious as opinions concerning pie crust. A properly sweetened, properly thickened blueberry pie is a challenge. When the fruit is just right, you should be shy with the sweetener, adding the slightest splash of lemon and barely a hint of your preferred spice, if any at all. What you really want to taste is the fruit.
Those tasked to arrive at Monday’s barbeque with one 9” blueberry pie, will be wildly popular. Amidst the Weber grills and Pottery Barn faux antique beer coolers, a 9” pie plate dripping in blue will be most welcome at a red and white-checkered table. When you are baking dozens of pies for the retail world however, the challenge is real.
The road to holiday weekend blueberry pie is fraught with more than its share of potholes. Over the years, I’ve toyed with many options. I’ve blind-baked the shell in hopes of encouraging a crisp bottom crust. I’ve broken up some of the berries with a rubber spatula, attempting to coax the juices from the fruit, encouraging the berries to mingle with the sugar. I am in favor of pre-cooking some of the berries with sugar and cornstarch then adding uncooked berries to the mix. It’s a viable option for a home baker, less so in a commercial bakery within earshot of the local fire department. I’ve painstakingly measured tablespoons of cornstarch, arrowroot, all-purpose flour and tapioca. Oh, tapioca. I’ve pulverized the living daylights out of you in hopes you would be provide just enough, but not too much stability to each slice. Yes, I know. You want your slice to stand neatly, with just enough purple juice swirling attractively against the scoop of vanilla ice cream puddling on the plate. Why? Because that’s how you saw it on Instagram and Instagram doesn’t lie.
Over the next 48 hours, free-wheeling blueberries will be rolling pell mell, from corrugated containers to wood-handled mesh strainers and perforated sheet pans, pausing for a moment beneath a shower of cool water. Unlike stone fruits that adhere stubbornly to pits, blueberries need little more than a once over for stems before joining the pie party. I’ll be at that party, armed with sugars and starches, zests and juices. Nesting pie shells will be plucked and filled, latticed, egg washed and sugared. They will bubble over the tops, stubbornly refusing to release their grip from sheets of parchment paper stained purple. Amidst all of the strawberry and blueberry mayhem swirling around the bakery, someone will come in looking for an apple pie. In the nicest way, I will whisper, “Never eat Memorial Day apple pie. It’s way too early.” Good-bye spring. Hello summer.