By JOHN LEHNDORFF
(Originally published in the KGNU Program Guide 2019; kgnu.org)
In the late 1800s, pie was kind of a big deal in Boulder. Early on, white settlers planted lots of rhubarb, pumpkins and apple trees and the crop often ended up in pies. They got sweeter as the area became known for beet sugar.
Pie became a crusted economic indicator. The May 11, 1892 Daily Camera declared. “When the sale of pies runs below zero, hard, pinching poverty is abroad in the land and want takes the best seat at the poor man’s table.”
By 1896, rhubarb pie and lemon pie were the finale for a Sunday dinner feast at Boulder’s original Hotel St. Julian that included raw oysters, roast turkey, roast veal and scalloped tomatoes. Yet, some Boulder citizens declared that not everyone deserved their piece of pie. A Daily Camera letter writer complained that certain people “…are really extravagant. … They even indulge in pie, which is no kind of food to be enjoyed by working people and does them no good.”
When the times were good there was pie for everyone. From 1899 to 1913, Pumpkin Pie Days served crowds in Longmont free pumpkin pie, coffee and apple cider. In 1908, more than 1000 pies were baked.
Boulder’s pie identity got a boost in 1975 when local school teacher Charlie Papazian declared his birthday, January 23, as National Pie Day. It has been celebrated on that date ever since. Papazian is best-known as the godfather of homebrewing and craft beer in the United States. Charlie is my friend and I ended up as spokesperson for National Pie Day. We went on to stage the Great American Pie Festival and the National Pie Championships in Boulder.
I turned Charlie’s American Pie Council into a real organization headquartered in my Boulder home for a time, created the Pie Times newsletter, organized pie festivals, taught pie making classes and judged many pie contests. Our slogan was: “In crust we trust.”
While my pie career never materialized, I still bake an occasional pie and judge pie contests in Louisville and Hygiene. I’m thrilled that the Boulder Apple Tree Project is finding the living survivors of Boulder’s 1800s orchards, often rare apple varieties. Grafts will save these hardy apples from extinction to become part of future pies.
KGNU has always had a close association with pie. Early on we even made apple pies at a local bakery during a drive and delivered them to members’ homes. Pie has been part of so many station events.
The most important thing is make a pie and share it. The beauty of a pie is that you can slice it so that everyone around the table gets an equal piece. That’s how you make a community and that’s the essence of KGNU.
You should make a pie, too. I’m not a pie purist. If making crust scares you, use a store-bought crust. No worries. Feel free to make any dietary substitutions.
John’s Fresh Blueberry Pie
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) chilled unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (or vinegar)
¼ cup ice cold water
4 tablespoons butter (frozen)
2½ pounds (about 8 cups) fresh blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup cornstarch
To make crust: Combine flour, salt and frozen butter in tiny cubes in a bowl until crumbly with some pea-sized chunks. Don’t overmix. Mix egg yolk with lemon juice and a tablespoon of ice water as needed. Add to flour and then sprinkle on remaining ice water. Work the dough gently until it forms a ball. Form into two discs and cover. Let dough rest at least three hours in the refrigerator.
For filling: Melt butter in a saucepan, add about 4 cups blueberries and stir in sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, salt and cinnamon. Sprinkle in cornstarch while stirring constantly. Cook until the filling bubbles and thickens. Remove from heat.
To make the pie: Preheat oven to 450. Roll out bottom crust — try not to stretch it — and place in a 9-inch, deep-dish glass pie pan. Add remaining blueberries and top with cooked filling. Top with crust, crimp edges and cut a few vents in the top unless you are doing a lattice. Brush top with milk.
Bake on a cookie sheet for 30 minutes. Lower heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 40 to 50 minutes. Deep-blue juice should be bubbling up and the bottom crust should be lightly browned. Shield the crimp from burning, if necessary, with an aluminum foil sleeve. Remove from oven and cool for several hours before slicing.
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays. Listen to archived shows: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles