I love doing research.
Specifically, I love doing random, no-stress research in which I pick a random topic, a random date range, and a random location, and do a quick dive using newspaper databases and online archives.
In this series, I’ll be doing quick dives that will, more likely than not, unintentionally turn into deeper dives.
Other research dives can be found under the tag ‘Quick Dive.’
Starting Topic: Blueberry Patch in Vermont from 1820-1850
Why’d I pick this topic? Short answer: the point of this is to be as random as possible. Longer answer: I like going to blueberry patches, and Vermont is one of the first states whose newspapers show up when you search “blueberry patch.”
The only hit I found of any merit was a serialized story in the November 24, 1829, edition of the Rutland County Herald that briefly mentioned blueberry pie.
That got me thinking: sometimes, especially in older local papers, you’ll find instances of people sending in family recipes for publication. Maybe I could find a bitchin’ blueberry pie recipe.
REVISED TOPIC: BLUEBERRY PIE IN VERMONT FROM 1820-1850
There were two hits from this search, both of which meant for botanically-inclined readers.
The first, a collection of plant species in the July 9, 1835, Vermont Chronicle out of Bellows Falls, which listed both blueberry –“Vaccinium pennsylvanienm”– and rhubarb best for making pie –“Rheum Rhaponticuin.”
The second, in a similar vein, listed different kinds of herbs and shrubs, and was signed by an Alphonso Wood who was very insistent that, if readers of his column were to seek out the plants he described, they were to “remember me in their benefactions; for my specimens are in fruit only.”
No dice on the recipe. Let’s try again:
REVISED TOPIC: Blueberry Pie Recipe in Vermont from 1800-1900
This one did a little bit better than the previous attempts. It returned a few promising entries (79 to the previous 6) so, imaging the sweet, refreshing slice of blueberry pie which awaited me, I start scrolling.
An ad for F.M. Corry’s Market which lists the price of 10 boxes of blueberries at a fair $1 (put that in 1899 money, account for inflation).
An article entitled “Valuable Family Recipes” in the June 26, 1863, edition of the Orleans Independent Standard (Irasburgh, VT) instructs the readers on how to do everything from bake soda crackers, to mix a paste that makes leather waterproof, to stop a cow from kicking:
“When the cow kicks, catch the foot in the hand and draw it close to the cow’s body, holding it there until she settles back on you, then let go of it.”June 26, 1863, Independent Standard (Irasburgh, VT)
But no blueberry pie.
A letter to the editor in September 1867 in which the author, self-identifying as “A Farmer’s Daughter,” makes an adamant and, not to stir drama in the berry community, but I daresay controversial, statement:
“And here let me make a suggestion: Don’t cook berries of any kind, except, perhaps, gooseberries. Cherries and currants will bear it and taste nicely in pies, tarts, etc., but strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are spoiled by being cooked … Therefore let me repeat, don’t cook berries.”September 14, 1867, Vermont Record (Brandon, VT)
Here at Jotted Jad, I’m committed to bringing you only the hottest of takes, straight from 1867.
Obviously I disagree, as I’m searching out a recipe for a blueberry pie.
And I have to tell you, folks, I was losing hope. I’d spent a whole (checks watch) 15 minutes on this (I stopped for a snack halfway through) and I was starting to think I’d never find that perfect, nineteenth century blueberry pie recipe which I so desperately sought.
Then, as the hope drained from my stomach, I spotted it.
“Blueberry Pie: Of All New England’s Fine Things There Is None Better”
Could it be?
“And of all the fine things to which the blueberry contributes or into which it is made who that was unacquainted with such mysteries could have predicted such a delectable dish as blueberry pie? Nor the pie of commerce of course, nor the restaurant pie, nor yet the hotel pie, but the pie your mother used to make or which your wife or your sister can make now if they have not been cheated of their New England heritage of knowing how to cook.”November 9, 1895, Burlington Free Press
The beautiful, flaky crust, the deep purple lake, oh, tell me more!
“There is, too, but one time to eat blueberry pie, and that is when it has been out of the oven just half an hour. At exactly this moment a whole one is just enough for a well man.”
And the recipe, the wonderful, perfect, mouth-watering recipe, how to construct the ideal New England dessert–
Yeah. A 300 word column extolling the virtues of blueberry pie, and they couldn’t give me the stinking recipe.
But what I did find was a recipe from 1899 for Steamed Blueberry Pudding in a syndicated “Good Cookery” column.
We’re in the midst of a pandemic in which many of us are turning to cooking and baking for some sense of comfort, did you think I wasn’t going to make it?
I never know where these Quick Dives are gonna take me…
WARNING: If you do decide to make this, be advised it is so dense. So, so dense. So very D E N S E. And tastes mostly of egg-y, flour-y paste. Maybe don’t make it unless you, like I, are motivated by curiosity and want to try your hand at a 120-year-old recipe.
Here’s the recipe:
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 C flour
1 C milk
1/2 C sugar
1 TBSP butter
2 C blueberries
Mix two teaspoonfuls of baking powder and one-half of a teaspoonful of salt with two cups of flour. Wet it with one cup of milk. Beat the yolks of two eggs, add one-half of a cup of sugar, creamed with one tablespoonful of softened butter. Beat until creamy then beat into the batter. Beat the whites stiff, add them, then stif in carefully two cups of blueberries, picked over and flavored well. Steam in lemon mold two hours. Serve with savory sauce.
1 C milk
1 TBSP flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 TBSP butter
1 C powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg white
Savory Sauce: Boil one cup of milk and thicken it with one tablespoonful of flour, worked smooth in a little cold water. Cook five minutes; add one saltspoonful (1/4 teaspoon) of salt and set it away to cool. Cream one heaping tablespoonful of butter with one cup of powdered sugar, add one teaspoonful of vanilla, and beat it into the cool thickened milk. Beat the white of one egg stiff, and beat it gradually into the sauce.