We’ve just returned from a relaxing week with family on Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada. My mom’s side of the family has been spending summers up here since the 1940s, when my great-grandfather (appropriately named “Granddaddy”) built a boathouse on the island he’d just purchased. The island has since grown to include a main cabin and two smaller cottages, but the cabins themselves haven’t changed much since the 1940s. Think bare beams, no insulation, and nights where all you can hear is the overwhelming chirp of crickets and the creak of the docks. It’s in the middle of nowhere and we like it that way.
And if you haven’t guessed by now, I also like the fact that so little has changed since the 1940s. But I’m reasonable: I like having electricity and running water, and indoor plumbing. My mom grew up here with outhouses and kerosene lamps, but that’s a little too prehistoric for me.
Gasp! I actually enjoy some modern conveniences!
Anyway, my sister is determined to march our little cabin into the modern age, step by refurbished step. So this summer we’ve replaced a few ancient mattresses with brand-new pillow-top dreams, and Lissa’s put up new curtains and laid out fresh bedspreads. My dad strung up new lamps to hang in the porch so we can read at night. All these changes add some much-needed freshness to the place, and I like it. But I also love the things that stay the same. These are the little details that I grew up with every summer, and the ones I greet like old friends each time I visit.
There are the kerosene lamps the family converted into electric lights. The reed pump organ supplied only with old hymnals and compilations of folk songs. The collection of baskets woven from dyed porcupine quills. The sketchbooks filled with drawings and watercolors done by my grandmother and my own mother. The old comics from the 1970s—Archie, Richie Rich, and Batman—that my sister and I used to reread every summer, because they’re just so much different from (better than) today’s comics (and Archie wears bellbottoms!). The wooden boats we sailed at the sandy beach when we were little.
And, of course, the old cookbooks.
There’s quite an interesting collection up here. It’s small but reflects the changing values of each generation: the Fannie Farmer from the 1930s, the “Cook it in a Casserole” special of the 1950s, the classic Joy of Cooking from the 1960s, and more recently, one of Mark Bittman’s tomes. Before I started this project, I used to peruse the cookbooks and delight at the copious amounts of lard the 1930s cookbooks would call for, or the occasionally bizarre recipes found even in Joy (more on that in a few days). This year I came with a mission: to use one or two of these cookbooks and to report the results back to you, my devoted readers.
The first report is on an old classic that I’ve presented here before: blueberry pie. We always make a blueberry pie at the island, often with berries we picked ourselves. Sadly, there weren’t any berries growing when we arrived, so we made do with store-bought. And since there wasn’t any white sugar at our tiny local grocery store, I turned it into a brown sugar pie. But the family, fresh from swimming, pronounced it delicious.
It’s fitting, then, to open the special vacation edition with this kind of pie. It reflects the adaptations and adjustments we make each year at the island, when we realize we’re out of this ingredient or can’t find that utensil. It also reflects the somewhat odd 1960s habit of making pie crust with flour paste. But who cares when it tastes so good?
Brown Sugar Blueberry Pie
(adapted from The Joy of Cooking, 1967 edition)
makes one 9-inch pie
for the filling:
4 cups fresh blueberries
3-4 tbsp flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
1-2 tbsp butter
for the crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
¼ cup water
2/3 cup butter
To make the filling:
Rinse and drain the blueberries, making sure to pick them over for leaves and stems. Place the berries in a large bowl and sprinkle with the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon, and mix gently. Let sit while you make the crust.
To make the crust:
Preheat the oven to 450 F. In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt together. Remove 1/3 cup of the flour mixture to a small bowl and add ¼ cup water, mixing to form a paste. To the remaining dry flour mixture, cut in the butter with knives or work it in with your fingertips. Once the grain is the size of peas, add the paste back into the dough and mix with your hands until the dough forms a ball. You may need to add a little more water to make sure it comes together.
Turn out the dough onto a floured board and separate into two balls. Roll out the first ball into a circular form slightly larger than the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan. Fold the dough in quarters and place in the pie pan, unfolding to cover the pan. Cover any gaps with extra dough. Pour the filling into the pie dish and dot the top of the filling with the remaining butter.
Roll out the second ball of dough as you wish. I like to make a lattice crust: roll out the dough into an oblong shape and use a knife to cut the dough into long strips about ½ inch wide. (See vintage 1960s diagram at left.)
Lay the strips over the filling in one direction, then in the other, making sure to weave them together into a loose lattice. It’s okay if the strips break; you can mush them back together with your fingertips.
Bake the pie at 450 F for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 F and bake for 35-40 more minutes.