I am quite the fireworks fanatic. My Yarrow Gardens neighbor, Aunty Paddy, cultivated this passion in me. Every National Day, she would leave her gate open so that the neighbors could walk through to her backyard. It looked out at the Siglap Secondary School athletic track, clear of tall trees, thus it gave us a panoramic view of the Shenton Way skyline where the fireworks display took place. The view got even better if we ran up the slope at the entrance to Yarrow Gardens. Our house was at the bottom of the slope.
Now, I live in the land of the 4th of July fireworks. It is a ritual that is taken very seriously in almost every city, small town and beach. The display of fireworks was first suggested by John Adams who wrote that the day "ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.... solemnized with pomp and parade...., bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."
My bedroom has a gorgeous view of the East River and for our first few years, we could observe the grand Macy's fireworks from our windows when the display was still on the east side. Alas, the UN Plaza - where Johnny Carson and Truman Capote lived - blocked our view. We could only see the top half and missed the bottom half altogether.
Someone recently said that the thrill is to hear the loud crackling, popping sounds that accompany fireworks. Watching from a sound-proof room, albeit with the TV on, is not adequate. That is true. Recently, the kids and I had the chance to stand beside Buckingham Palace during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee concert. We were startled when a gunshot-like noise heralded a series of pops and whistles of fireworks exploding right above our heads. I guess it brought to life for my children, the meaning of 'Firework' - the Katy Perry song they cannot stop belting, starting with "Do you ever feel...like a plastic bag?"
In 1997, I was invited to spend the 4th of July at the home of the CEO of our ad agency. He lived in a picture-perfect seaside colonial on an exclusive island off Rye. Prior to a magnificent display, we were treated to a full barbecue spread followed by a luscious blueberry pie from Abigail Kirsch. It remains my gold standard for blueberry pie - often made in July which is the berry's peak season. What was most memorable was that there were a substantial number of 'whole' berries in the filling that popped in my mouth. The filling was not smushy in that sense.
Once or twice, I dragged my husband to the New York Botanical Garden partly because I knew that Abigail Kirsch ran the cafeteria there and sold that same pie. Later on, I discovered the trick. While you cook the filling, you set a portion of the berries aside, then add them back after you have already cooked the filling. This creates some mix to the texture, of firm and soft berries.
I also took a weeklong pie-making class. Sadly, my apple pie skills are still weak, but I triumphed in mastering the lattice top for the blueberry pie. I also learnt that a pie has a full crust over the top and a tart is open on the surface. My mother was not accustomed to pies and tarts in the American tradition. The only pie she was known for making was chicken pie, and she was a legend for her small delicate pineapple tarts. Enjoy the recipe for this quintessential American pie and Happy 4th.
Blueberry Lattice Pie
(Adapted from Nick Malgieri)
Sweet Dough Recipe for Two Crusts
2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
2 large eggs
Using a food processor and a dough blade, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the work bowl. Pulse at 1 second intervals to mix.
Cut butter into 1 tablespoon pieces or smaller, and add to work bowl, a few at a time. Pulse again repeatedly at 1 second intervals until mixture resembles coarse ground cornmeal. About 15-20 pulses. Ensure that no large pieces of butter remain visible.
Add the eggs to the work bowl, one at a time, and pulse until the dough forms into a ball.
Scatter flour on the counter, knead the dough until smooth. Press the dough into two disks of equal size and sandwich each with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until dough is firm, at least for an hour.
To mix dough by hand
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Stir well. Cut butter into 1 tablespoon pieces or smaller, and add to the bowl, a few at a time. Using only fingertips, pinch and squeeze butter into the dry ingredients. Rub this quickly until the mixture resembles coarse ground cornmeal. Ensure that no large pieces of butter remain visible. Add the eggs to the bowl, one at a time, and stir in with a fork pulse until the dough forms into a ball. Scatter flour on the counter, knead the dough until smooth. Press the dough into two disks of equal size and sandwich each with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until dough is firm, at least for an hour.
2 ½ pints of blueberries, remove soft mushy ones
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg well beaten with a pinch of salt
Combine 1 cup of blueberries with the sugar and bring to simmer over medium heat, covered. Stir only to spread sugar evenly, do not over stir. Add a few drops of lemon juice to avoid crystallization.
Combine cornstarch and water in another bowl. When the sugar in the blueberry mixture has melted, stir the mixture into the cornstarch and water, and return everything into the saucepan. Stir and let it boil over low heat until the mixture thickens. All of the blueberries do not necessarily have to burst.
Pour into a bowl and stir in the rest of the ingredients, except for the remaining blueberries. Then add the blueberries, leaving ½ pint aside for later. Let mixture cool.
Using a 9 inch Pyrex pie pan, grease and dust with flour.
Set the oven at 400 degrees F and the rack at the lower and upper one thirds of the oven.
Let the dough thaw for 5 to 10 minutes. Roll one disk vertically, turn a quarter and roll vertically again. Repeat until the disk flattens out into a larger disk. Remove one side of plastic wrap and flip the dough over the pie pan. Pour the cooled blueberry filling. Then cover the filling with the ½ pint of fresh blueberries that had been set aside.
Now roll the other disk to a flatter, larger size. (If the weather is too hot, this other disk may be kept in the refrigerator a little longer and left to thaw later. This prevents the lattice strips from breaking.)
Remove one side of the plastic wrap and dust with flour. Place the wrap back on, flip the dough over and remove the other wrap. (This allows for easy lifting of the thin strips.) Cut the dough into twelve ½ inch strips. Use the strips to make a lattice top for the pie.
Beginning with the extreme left strip, fold every other strip in half, peeling the top edge backwards towards you.
Place another strip across the folded strips, just above the fold. Unfold the strips away from you back to their original position, over the horizontal strip.
Now, with the second vertical strip on the left, begin to fold every other strip in half, peeling the top edge towards you.
Place a second horizontal strip across. Then unfold the strips back.
Repeat until you complete the top half of the lattice pie. Then turn the pie pan 180 degrees and repeat the process.
Fold the edge of the pie crust under and brush the lattice top and edge with egg wash.
Place the pie in the lower rack of the oven and reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. To avoid spillage, place a tray underneath the pie pan. Bake for 40 minutes until the crust is baked through to a deep golden brown and the filling is bubbling.