Beginning when I was around six or seven, every summer on a hot, sticky day in early August my mother and her friends would take me and go to a nearby hill where low bush wild blueberries grew. The grass was prickly. The sun beat down. My container seemed enormous and the berries were small. Quickly tiring, I would dawdle and eat berries while my mother and her friends picked on and on, eventually returning home with overflowing containers.
I don’t remember if she made pies or simply served them to us to eat. She might have made jam. The experience of the heat, the boredom and the tediousness of picking have overwritten any other memories I might have had. I haven’t picked any blueberries for a long time, and the little wild ones are pretty hard to find if you don’t. I have brought some home from visits to Maine.
Fortunately wild blueberries can be found frozen because they work best in the following recipe from a cookbook called When the Cook’s Away, by Peg Harvey. (If you can find this book in a second hand store, buy it for your collection. It is a wonderful source for simple, interesting easy recipes.) The pie in question, Roman Blueberry Pie, is made primarily with uncooked blueberries, “fastened together” with a cooked thickened blueberry sauce.
The first time I made it I was unsure how long to cook the sauce and ended up with an amazingly hard dark blue lump in the pot. Fortunately, by adding water and stirring vigorously, I was able to resolve the lump and finish the pie. When you make it, try not to let the sauce get too thick, yet if you do, don’t despair, with an effort you can thin it out again.
The recipe begins with a baked pastry pie shell–home made or purchased. Measure 4 cups of blueberries. Take out 3/4 cup and cook them in 1/4 cup water until soft. Push through a sieve. Add 2/3 cups sugar and 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Cook until somewhat thickened–it will grow thicker as it cools, and chill in the refrigerator. When the puree is very cold, mix it gently with the rest of the berries, being very careful that each berry is coated. Reserve the mixture until shortly before dinner, then put it in the pie shell and garnish with whipped cream if desired.
Researching on the Internet, I found that Elizabeth Colman White is responsible for cultivated blueberries. 1893 she began working on her father’s cranberry plantation. She wanted to utilize the land between the cranberry bogs for another berry harvest. In 1911, she read about Dr. Frederick Coville’s efforts in blueberry cultivation and contacted him with her ideas. By 1916, their combined efforts produced a blueberry that could be sold. Dr. Coville’s expertise in scientific cultivation and Elizabeth White’s good business sense helped create the blueberry cultivation business that enables us to enjoy this delicious fruit with all of its health benefits all year round.