Each year during blueberry season, I’m reminded of one of my favorite children’s books, Blueberries for Sal. If you’re not familiar with this book, here’s the general storyline for this classic Robert McCloskey tale.
Sal, a toddler in a cute little romper, and her mother go to Blueberry Hill to collect berries to can for the winter. Little do they know that Mama Bear and her baby are also there, eating as many blueberries as they can before they tuck away for a long winter’s hibernation. After Sal eats one too many berries from her mother’s pail, mom feels free to send her chubby little tot off to play and pick berries unattended on the wild hill so she can concentrate on her berry collecting duties (written in the 40s, this obviously couldn’t happen today without Child Protective Services getting involved). Meanwhile Mama Bear is also annoyed with Baby Bear and so sends him off to find his own berries to store up for the winter. High jinx ensue — after all, this is a children’s story — and everyone gets all mixed up on Blueberry Hill.
Sal stumbles upon Mama Bear and Baby Bear comes up behind Sal’s mother — but soon the kids are reunited with their appropriate parents. Sal and her mother have buckets of berries to bring home and Mama and Baby Bear can eat enough to store up for the long cold winter. The ending illustration is of little Sal and her mother canning away in their Maine kitchen.
I’ve always loved how this story encapsulates the fleetingness of blueberry season. Sweet and bursting with flavor for a short time, the berries on Blueberry Hill must be picked and eaten or quickly canned before they are lost. Irresistible to Sal and Baby Bear, they are a decadent delight for all children (or anyone) during their brief season. Sure, you can preserve them like Sal and her mom (or these days you can also buy frozen berries), but nothing compares to berries freshly picked.
Like Sal, I find blueberries hard to resist this time of year. Sadly I don’t live next to Blueberry Hill — although I would love to see Baby Bear up there eating his fill of berries — so I don’t have the luxury of picking buckets of them. I can, however, find beautiful mounds of blueberries everywhere I shop. Ripe, plump and juicy, they are ephemerally at their sweetest right now. So in addition to the handfuls of blueberries I like to eat while standing in my kitchen, and the blueberry muffins I’ve enjoyed recently, I have also made my yearly fresh blueberry crumble pie.
The key to this pie is fresh blueberries. It can be made with frozen berries, but I recommend making it now while the fruit is firm and plump, deliciously sweet with a slightly tart burst. Cooked in a prebaked pie crust, the pastry is buttery and crisp and sits firmly beneath the berry filling (instead of getting soggy). I then top the pie with a traditional fruit crisp topping of oatmeal, flour, sugar and butter.
As Sal’s mother and Mama Bear knew, blueberry season passes quickly; so why not make the most of it with a pie?
Blueberry Crumble Pie
Makes: One pie
1 pie crust
5 cups blueberries (cleaned and dried with stems removed)
4 Tbsp flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
Zest from 1/2 a lemon
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 stick butter
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pie crust in you baking dish, top with parchment paper and either pie weights or beans, and bake for 20 minutes. Take crust out of the oven then and then remove the pie weights and parchment paper. Let cool until ready to use.
2. Mix berries, white sugar, flour, salt, lemon zest and peel in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. Mix topping ingredients, being sure to thoroughly incorporate the butter into the flour, oatmeal and sugar so it resembles small pebbles.
4. Set blueberries into the cooked pie crust. Top with the oatmeal and flour mixture, being sure to mound it securely on top. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and the filing is bubbling. If the topping browns too quickly while baking, place foil on it.
5. Let pie cool and serve with ice cream.