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Me and the Blues

Wendy Kipfmiller My mother is not a shopper. She feels about the activity the way most people feel about scrubbing the rings off the sides of the bathtub, maybe, or running in hundred-degree heat with heavy sweatpants on.

Unfortunately, she gave birth to two girls—a healthy, all-American, red-blooded pair. We lusted after mother-daughter shopping trips to the outlets, to the mall, downtown to get stationery or art supplies. I can count on one hand, I think, the number of times my mother actually got excited about taking us out to look for a new pair of shoes or a party dress. Mostly, she was content to ship us off with the other moms, and we were content to go.

The exception to all this was food. My mother started bringing my sister and I to the farmers market as very little girls. It took place on the long, wide town green twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, from 8 a.m. to noon. It was the one place we had ever seen her excited to shop, and we happily took the cue. We traveled together down the vendor rows, three pairs of eyes widening together at the size of a farmer’s beets, the sheen of another’s apples, the way the woman with preserves gave her pickles such crunch. We knew it was the closest to a mother-daughter shopping trip we were ever going to get and reveled in every minute of every visit.

There was one visit every year, though, that we particularly looked forward to. That was the annual blueberry pick-up, the day in August when our 20-pound fruit order from Rudd Douglas came in. Rudd was at the market every week, selling organic potatoes and other produce and all sorts of perennials. But come August he’d start bringing the blueberries in—tiny, sweet, wild Maine blueberries by the pint and by the quart, and if you put in a special order, by the pound.

We always ordered a 20-pound box. My mother would freeze most of the berries for winter pies and muffins and pancakes and simply sprinkling, thawed, on cereal, but pick-up day was an all-you-can-eat sort of affair. Cardboard has never felt so promising as it did on those August afternoons when my sister and I unfurled the box, then dug in, stuffing ourselves with handful after handful of ripe Maine fruit. We’d keep reaching in until our bellies hurt, but that one day, my mother didn’t care.

Of course, partly that’s because she knew we’d still save room for the pie. You can’t buy 20 pounds of blueberries and not make at least one, and she usually made three or four—one to keep, and a few to give away. That evening, once the freezer was full, she’d roll out a crust and toss a quart and a half of the berries with sugar and lemon juice, and then stick the pie plate in the oven with a cookie sheet below, hoping it would catch at least some of the mess. For blueberry pie, my mother has always simply used the recipe in the Joy of Cooking with a homemade sweet crust. (I tried playing around with other variations, but from what I can tell, it isn’t worth it. Irma’s recipe is simple, easy, and best of all, good.)

The pies were invariably soupy. The tapioca called for in the Joy of Cooking apparently had nothing on the torrent of fresh, juicy fruit, and more than a few pies set the smoke detector off. But it didn’t matter—we ate it hot on the deck with bowls and spoons and a pile of creamy, melting, vanilla ice cream soup.

When I moved to the Cape, I discovered that the tiny berries aren’t for sale at farmers markets anywhere. You can buy the big, high-bush berries to be sure, but to me, those never taste like home. So when I stumbled across the berries in the woods—when I found out that on certain sunny, oak-shaded hills you can find wild bushes, blue to the hilt—I filled up two quart buckets before the day was up. I can’t tell you where I pick, but I can say this: At the end of every August, I know exactly what pie we’ll be having for dessert.

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Elspeth Hay lives in Wellfleet

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