Monday, August 25, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #6

Seasonal Fruits/Vegetables

The Challenge: Seasonal Fruits/Vegetables

I knew exactly what I wanted to make for this challenge too. I had a request from my family: my grandmother's famous blueberry pie with crumb topping.  My grandmother always used fresh blueberries, stocking up during a sale. She would make the topping and freeze it and used prepared pie crusts. In in the interest of making this a true challenge, I made my own pie crust.

The Recipe: 
Pie crust recipe from my Nonnie (paternal grandmother) with help from The Lily Wallace New American Cookbook c. 1947:

3 heaping cups full of flour
1 handful equal to one stick shortening
1 pinch salt
3/4 c. ice water

Mix flour, salt and shortening by hand. Slowly add ice water and combine by hand. Press into a ball and divide into two parts. Chill and roll out until 1/8" thick. Flour rolling pin and roll dough back onto rolling pin and into pie tin. Gently press dough into pie tin and prick all around with a fork. 

Nonnie's Best Blueberry Pie

2 c. flour
1 stick butter, softened
1 pinch salt 
3/4 c. sugar (mix white and brown or use dark brown)
dash cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg
Mix with fingers and knead until crumbly

1 1/2 qt. blueberries
3/4 sugar
1 T. butter 
1 drop lemon juice
flour (opt.)

Wash and dry blueberries and place in a large bowl. If very dry you can add 6 T. flour. Add sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix. Double tinfoil in pan so pie doesn't leak. Squeeze a drop of lemon juice on the blueberries. Put a pat of butter on top and add crumb topping. Bake at 350 degrees. Check after 15 minutes. Give it another 15 if not done. Bake until crumbs are golden brown. (You will smell it when it's done!) 
The Date/Year and Region: 1950s/60s New England
It dates to post-1920 when my family came to the U.S. from Italy and post-1940s when they opened an Italian restaurant and my Nonnie became the baker. It probably dates to at least 1949 when my Nonnie was a bride. My dad remembers having this pie as a kid each summer on Cape Cod in the late 50s or early 60s. I couldn't document her exact recipe, but I did find this clipping from 1966 that is very close. It's a variation on crumbles, crisps, slumps and grunts that date back to pioneer times, according to 
How Did You Make It: 
Nonnie was one of those old world grandmas who never measured. She had all her recipes in her head. Several years ago I watched my Nonnie make the pie and copied down actual measurements. She used a handful of shortening, a pinch of cinnamon, etc. I followed my own written directions. I originally used half white sugar and half brown from the crumbs but added more brown sugar to the crumbs because they didn't look right with half and half.

Time to Complete:  It took a lot longer to bake than she said it does. I used an electric oven which tends to be slower and I also had a lot of blueberries. We're a big family and we all love this pie.

Total Cost:
I had all the ingredients on hand at the time. Blueberry prices vary but since they're in season, they tend to be on the less expensive side.

How Successful Was It?: 
Very. We nearly devoured the whole pie in one sitting. My dad declared my pie crust better than his mother's (well yes, she used a frozen pie crust in later years).

How Accurate Is It?: 100% but it never tastes the same as when my Nonnie made it.

Sometimes my Nonnie forgot the sugar and the pie was still delicious. When I asked her why it doesn't taste the same she replied: "I bless it!" and pointed to the flavored liquors she had on hand for baking. She didn't "bless" her pie as far as I can remember though. Her cookies are another story...


  1. I have plenty of recipes from my grandmother and none of them taste the same. In fact a lot of times she doesn't even use a recipe. If I want a recipe from her, I have to follow her around the kitchen and guess. Nice post! Your crust looks great!

  2. Thanks. My dad followed his mom around and wrote down things and we have her handwritten recipes and fragments. She used to make blueberry pie with a top crust too and she would sometimes forget to put the sugar in or leave it out for my diabetic grandfather. She told me it took her 60 years to learn to do what she did (she died recently at almost 101) and I can't expect to learn it in one day. I wanted to add a picture of her with her pie to the post but I don't think I have one. I'll keep looking.


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