I used to volunteer to work every 4th of July. There’s a saying we frequently use when referring to the hospital, which is that it’s a “24/7 operation”. While that may seem like an overly obvious statement to most, to those of us working in healthcare it means two things: that one shouldn’t feel pressured to finish every little thing before calling it a day (because someone will be coming along after you to continue the work), and second, that everyone is expected to work some holidays.
I quit volunteering to work on the 4th of July, however, when my in-laws retired and made their eastern shore house their permanent home. The celebration became more of an event after that. These days, family flies across the country to be there and you can always count on plenty of steamed crabs, fireworks, and beer.
The idea to make this pie to bring to the celebration came about because of an abundance of sweet, plump blueberries from the CSA. I used a mixture of strawberries and blueberries because that’s what I had on hand, but any combination of berries or single berry will do. I used Heidi’s pie filling recipe, adapting it only slightly, because I appreciated that it used only brown sugar and promised not to be too sweet.
You owe it to the fresh berries to make a homemade pie crust. This one is quite buttery and flakey, but uses absolutely no lard. If it’s a little dry (as mine is occasionally), follow the advice of a master, Jacques Pepín, and roll the crust out between two pieces of plastic wrap or parchment. This should work nicely.
for the crust:
16 Tbsp. cold, unsalted butter (cut into pieces)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 tsp salt
3-10 Tbsp ice water
Place flour and salt in a food processor bowl fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until nickel-sized clumps begin to form. Add 3 Tbsp ice water and pulse again. Check your dough. Is it dry? Does it form a dough ball? Chances are you will have to add more water. Add ice water, one Tablespoon at a time, pulsing in between and checking the dough. You will probably end up adding about 6 Tablespoons or so in total. Pull the dough out and form a ball. Roll in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Remove dough from refrigerator and separate into two balls, one slightly larger than the other. Place the smaller ball back in the fridge until ready to use. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and place the dough ball on top. Sprinkle some flour on the dough and roll with rolling pin, rolling 2-3 times, lifting moving the dough, then placing it back down to roll some more. Frequently moving the dough around while rolling will help keep the dough from sticking to the counter.
Alternatively, a technique I recently began to use is to put a large piece of parchment paper on the counter, sprinkle with flour, put the dough on top of the paper, and place another equally large piece of parchment on top of the dough ball. Roll your dough out through the parchment to about a 12-inch round. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Peel back the parchment and use the bottom parchment to lift, flip and center the dough circle over a 9-inch pie tin. Peel back the bottom piece of parchment and gently push the crust into the form of the pan (save this piece of parchment). Again, it doesn’t have to be perfect-you can pinch and patch as you go. Flute the edges of the crust.
Remember that piece of parchment I told you to save? Lay it across the crust in your pie tin. Now you need to weigh it down. You can use a bunch of copper pennies. I liked to use beans, Make sure they are spread evenly across the bottom of the crust. Bake the crust until it just starts to turn golden and crisp, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven and make your filling while it cools.
Turn oven temperature up to 425 degrees.
for the filling:
2 pounds of berries (blueberries, blackberries, huckleberries or any combination. You may also use a combination of up to one pound of strawberries with a darker berry to equal 2 pounds)
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves
1/ cup milk and turbinado sugar (or other large grain or granulated sugar) for sprinkling the crust
Place berries in a large bowl, add sugar and cinnamon. Using a fork or a masher, gently mash berries slightly with the sugar to combine. Fold in the flour and thyme leaves.
Place filling into pre-baked pie crust. Top with lemon juice and dot with butter pieces.
Roll your top pie dough into a disc as you did the bottom. Gently push the top dough into the crimped edges of the bottom crust.
Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top of the crust with milk. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cut 4 slits in the top of the crust (approximately 3 inches long) to allow steam to escape during baking.
Place pie on middle rack in oven. NOTE: You may want to put a cookie sheet lined with foil on the shelf under the rack with the pie to catch the filling if it drips (see my photos).
Check your pie after 25 minutes. If the outer edge of the crust is browning too quickly, place crimped strips of aluminum foil around the edge and continue baking.
Bake until crust is a deep golden color and filling is bubbling slightly, approximately 45-50 minutes total.
Remove and place on wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Will store on countertop up to 3 days.