Sunday, August 16, 2009
As we near the end of summer, I feel it is time to consider the blueberry, one of summer's quintessential fruits and one often laden with memories.
Whether you have ever picked them fresh off the bush, as my father did as a child (Blueberries for Sal style, except without the cute bear cub, unfortunately), woken up Sunday morning to your grandmother's fresh blueberry pancakes or scones, or even shared a romantic desert of blueberries with a side of fresh whipped cream, blueberries are as delicious as they are nutritious, frequently being touted by scientists, dietitians, and sports nutritionists alike as a key addition to any diet. In fact, the ideal breakfast before a long bike ride, according to the official magazine of USA Triathlon, is some low-fat yogurt, preferably Greek yogurt, which has a higher protein count, with granola, walnuts, and a hefty helping of blueberries, drizzled with honey to taste if you prefer the additional sweetener.
I love blueberries with cream and will always try to keep a ready stash of berries on hand during the summertime for both breakfast and this particular dessert. I feel in general that fruit is best eaten in as close to its whole form as possible, and feel that something like blueberry vodka (which actually exists, made my Smirnoff, which I once had the misfortune of trying at a wedding in Maine), is almost ungodly and tastes appropriately foul.
That said, I will always think of the blueberry fondest with regards to blueberry pie. As mentioned above, my father loves blueberries, no doubt due to his own idyllic childhood experience, and it is to this day his favorite fruit. When I was a teenager and not yet able to drive, my dad drew the short straw and drove me to all my morning swim practices. Saturday morning practices were always particularly painful. They were three hours long and I was always exhausted from the week and more often than not, had been out late the night before for a high school team meet, which was worth peanuts in the mind of my club coach. Plus, we didn't have school that day, so our coach had free reign to work us to the bone.
After dropping me off, my dad would take a little nap in the car, grab some breakfast at a nearby diner, read the paper, and then, if the mood struck him, amble over to either Pastries by Randolph or The Heidelberg Bakery, which are, according to him, the two finest bakeries in the DC-Metropolitan area. By far and away the first customer of the day, he would have the joy of picking out a perfect blueberry pie, fresh from the oven and barely cool.
By the time he made his way back to the pool, I would be done and waiting for him, exhausted, and looking like a drowned rat. The car at this point would smell just like warm blueberry pie and it would be torture as I absorbed this delicious aroma, yet was explicitly NOT allowed to open the box and have some until we got home and could enjoy it properly, which in my dad's mind was a la mode, but to me would have been right there, in the front seat.
But I always waited, and when we got home, I would take the edge off my hunger and fatigue with two bowls of cheerios, a bagel with cream cheese, a banana or nectarine, and some orange juice. Only then would I finally sit down with my coveted slice of blueberry pie and savor every bite, from the tartness of the filling to the light and flaky crumbly crust.
Then it would be time for a glorious post-practice nap. I will always remember the feeling of collapsing into bed, so sore at times I felt as if I'd never be able to get up again, feeling both damned and blessed. Damned because in less than thirty-six hours, it would be Monday morning and I'd be back for more punishment before the sun had risen. Blessed because I really did love the sport for all my blustering, and how could I feel otherwise as I lay there with a belly-full of blueberry pie?
Blueberries are delicate little things and obviously the fresher and less they've been bounced about in a truck, the better. I find the best blueberries in NYC come from farmers markets (Union Square is good, or the one down in Battery Park), or this place in Brooklyn called Foragers, a gourmet food market that I could poke around in for hours.
If you would like to try your hand at baking your own blueberry pie, here is a recipe from the chef at the great Union Square Cafe. Otherwise, Hundred Acres in Soho has delicious pie to help you recapture any pie memories of your own.