the Denali Dreams blog
As the nip in the air develops and the leaves start to turn golden yellow, I grab my bucket and hike off to the low growing shrubs to pick blueberries. The quest to find the flickers of blue on the green turning tundra sometimes lead to sitting in one place for hours picking (and nibbling) your way through the thick sea of blue and others you’re tempted to pick the unripe green blueberries because you can’t seem to find one in the whole valley. Picking berries is another ritual my family does together, though as kids we were more interested in eating them to the point of stomach aches, blue lips, and fingers than we were about gathering them for treats later.
Over the years I’ve grown some self-control and have saved the freshly picked blueberries for making my two favorite things, jam, and pie. Each year I have made it a point to pick at least enough to make one blueberry pie. It’s a recipe I’ve been making since I was young and about the only one, I can consistently make well. Really it’s all in the crust, a recipe my grandmother handed down called Fool Proof Pie Crust. The recipe card is covered in oil smudges and years of flour dust. The beautiful cursive flows across the card like a piece of art, with specific instructions that are the reason it always turns out. Adamant about only using shortening and noting not to use anything else and to add the flour a spoonful at a time to ensure the perfect amount that makes for a fluffy flaky crust that melts in your mouth with blueberries bursting with sweet-tart flavor.
My grandmother passed away just a few weeks ago and at the funeral I had this woman approach me in the bathroom, slightly cornered I realized she wanted to share some memories she had with my grandmother. As she described exchanging recipes with her and being privileged to the secrets of a moist cake the odd surroundings and overused paper towel in my hands seemed to melt away as I realized that a simple thing like a recipe can bring us closer to those who aren’t here any longer. That seeing the curves of the writing on the recipe card and flour falling onto the counter, the smell of the pie out of the oven is my grandmother right there with me like when I was young and she was showing me how to roll the dough for the first time. Those loving memories only shine more every time I take the card out to make a blueberry pie. I feel her love and passion oozing through the card and know it’s the special ingredient to all the “secrets” of baking. In the spirit of her and her ability to make one hell of a pie, I’ve included her Fool Proof Pie Crust and Blueberry Pie recipes. I hope they both bring you as much fun and love as they have brought my family and maybe even inspire you to dig up some old family recipes.
Fool Proof Pie Crust (word for word instructions)
4 cups flour (not instant or self-rising) lightly spoon into cup
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cup shortening (room temperature) don’t use oil, lard, margarine, or butter
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar
1 large egg
Stir together with fork flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in shortening with the fork until crumbly. In a small bowl beat together water, vinegar, and egg. Add to flour mixture and stir until all ingredients are moistened. Divide in 5 portions shape into flat round patty ready for rolling.
Recipe makes 2 – 9 inch round crust pies and 1 pie shell or 20 tart shells. Dough can be left in refrigerator for 3 days or can be frozen.
Blueberry Pie Recipe
2 Fool Proof Pie Crust Patty Balls
4 cups fresh picked blueberries
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoon cornstarch
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out one refrigerated dough patty, line pie pan. In a large bowl mix blueberries, salt sugar, and cornstarch. Option: if you don’t have 4 cups of berries you can substitute missing berries with juicy peeled and pitted peaches. Pour into lined pie pan and roll out the other pie crust patty and lay over top. Crimp the edges and lightly prick the top of the pie with fork holes. Place in oven for 50 minutes or until golden brown crust edges. Enjoy with vanilla ice cream!
Standing at the mouth of Kenai River in the water, I looked over the surface and locked eyes with two bobbing seal heads coming up for air. They were looking for the same thing I was: Sockeye Salmon. Since I was five my family has made the yearly ritual of driving three hours south to subsistence dip net. It’s become such a ritual that it’s how my parents celebrate their wedding anniversary each year. Last year was the first year we didn’t dip net on the same weekend and it wasn’t until my grandmother called to wish them a happy anniversary that they realized they had both forgotten.
We plan this trip a year in advance with another family. Between the two families, we each have a job in the process, some of us are brave souls that suit up in neoprene chest waders that feel like a snug sausage casing to battle the combat fishing that dip netting can become. Others run the fish from the beach to the cutting table which as the tide goes out this distance can seem like you are crossing the Gobi Desert. Then there is the slime line, and this task is where I spend most of my time. Posted up on the beach we remove the head, tail, and gut the fish. Once back at camp, the ulus (Alaskan Native knife) come out and we use our carving skills to fillet the rest of the meat. The younglings don’t get left out either, as an introduction job into the process, they are given a spoon to scrape off any left-over meat from the carcasses, makes for amazing tacos, burgers and salmon hash.
After four days of engulfing yourself in fish slime, guts, and scales, the resemblance of a fish and the smell is uncanny. It doesn’t matter how many times you wash your hands or hard you scrub the only thing I have found that will transform me back into a human that doesn’t smell like a fish hold is the Fisherman Soap. My dad asks me before we head out, “Did you bring a bar?”. We all use it, even the ones who go into the water and for the most part don’t touch the fish. The ground coffee neutralizes the fish smell, and the other wonderful smells of having your skin tight body suit, it helps to wash it all away leaving you with a pleasant lemon, lemongrass essence that is heaven to your nose and those around you.
So why would someone put themselves through this, let alone spend their anniversary doing this? What a great question, and one my brothers and I have asked for years growing up. Who in their right mind would purposely go on a family excursion filled with little sleep, to wear sausage casing fitting clothing, exposing only your face to so much sun to the point of becoming unrecognizable and leaving smelling as if you had slept in a cannery for the weekend? The answer is my parents, they wanted to be able to provide us with something that was readily available that not everyone in the world has access to. They wanted to teach us skills and have the appreciation of where food comes from. Their love and sacrifice showed my brothers and I more than an “unheard-of family vacation”, it showed us a way of life that is worth going back for year after year.
Surprise! We created a new website! What do you think so far? We are completely jazzed about it. Not only does it help us provide better service to you but it helps keep things less complicated on our end. The vision for the website was to create a site that not only embodies and showcases our products but oozes all things Alaska, from the pictures to the products to content. Your time on our site is about reminiscing of memories or dreams of being in Alaska. We hope you enjoy surfing the site as much as we have enjoyed building it.
It’s all happening!