The Blueberry Pie That Made Me Who I Am

My grandmother's simple blueberry pie inspired a lifelong devotion to the kitchen.

Rustic Blueberry Pie
Photo: Vast Photography/Getty Images

Do you remember the first time you tasted a blueberry? I do. I was 5 and held Maw Maw's hand after supper as we walked past the fence to her blueberry bushes. The warm wet of a North Alabama summer surrounded us (along with countless fireflies). She plucked a fat purple berry for me to eat and the juicy flavor got my attention. Then she handed me a green one and I ate it unsuspectingly—I never trusted a green blueberry again, and she set off on her picking.

Every summer of my childhood, my mom packed me in the car with play clothes, a swimsuit, and one obligatory "church outfit," before taking me out of the buzz of our Atlanta suburb to visit Maw Maw for a week in rural Alabama. There I learned how to garden, how to be a grandson, and how to cook. Each night we'd sit on the porch swing and listen to the quiet hum of summer in the country. I still measure my childhood in summers because those early memories with Maw Maw are the most vivid.

The day after we picked the blueberries, I watched Maw Maw turn a twiggy and muddy bucket of fruit into a pie fit for a king. Her pie dough took minutes to come together, and she didn't fuss. Instead of rolling out the bottom layer, she handed me half the dough with the instruction to "mash it into the pan."

On the stove, sugar and water gurgled and steamy wafts of sweet cinnamon and lemon filled the kitchen. She turned a bowl of cleaned blueberries into the syrup and they morphed into shiny black marbles. After pouring the glossy fruit into the crust on the counter, she covered it with a smooth layer of pastry, quickly crimped the edges, and cut three even slits into the top. This was Maw Maw's No-Fuss Blueberry Pie.

Grandmother Photo
Micah A. Leal

The waiting just about killed me (as did the inevitable "grandmother lesson" about patience). To make matters worse, we couldn't touch it for a few hours because "the fillin' had to set." In an attempt to pass the time, we played cards at the table, went for a walk around the neighborhood, and ate lunch by the fig trees. Finally, we went inside and Maw Maw pulled two fancy plates from her china cabinet. My fork cracked the surface—the crust flaked and smelled like butter, and the deep purple red filling tasted like that first blueberry but even better. There was magic in this.

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Twenty years have passed since then and now I work in a bakery, trying to capture the right crumb in my sourdough and perfect layers in my croissants. But sometimes, I'll buy whatever's in season and turn to Maw Maw's recipes and remember that the best dishes are often the simplest ones. And that every dessert deserves the fancy china.

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