Lifting Spirits with Blue Ribbon Baking

Author and pie baker extraordinaire Beth Howard was right when she said you can create peace with a piece of pie. It’s been six weeks since we lost Amy Hild, a valued member of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds’ marketing team, in a tragic automobile accident. It’s hard to feel like smiling when there’s a pit in your stomach and an emptiness in your soul that’s indescribable.


Iowa bloggers, creating soul food. from left to right: Mary Hopper, Jennifer Flaa, Jessica Wood, Shannon Latham and Val Plagge

Iowa bloggers, creating soul food. from left to right: Mary Hopper, Jennifer Flaa, Jessica Wood, Shannon Latham and Val Plagge

But thanks to a small group of positive women, there’s joy in my heart today. Yesterday four members of the North Iowa Bloggers and I road-tripped about two hours south to accept an invitation for a baking class from Cristen Clark, a national award-winning cook and baker. The idea originated from a post by blogger Jennifer Flaa entitled, “Baking Feelings into Pies.”  Pies-Quote

I spent a perfect day in the kitchen filled with positive women. (BTW, my experience yesterday reminded me the title to a book I greatly enjoyed. Click here if you’d like to learn more about it.) Even the most seasoned bakers in our group learned from one another.

A few of the tips and tricks I want to remember include:

  1. “Fat is where it’s at!” (Fat adds flavor to hamburgers. It also makes pie crust delicious and flakey. Use butter or lard; it’s a personal preference.)
  2. When mixing up the pie filling, zest half a fresh lemon peel into the sugar. (“Perfume the sugar.” Words alone cannot explain how delicious this smells. You must experience it yourself!)
  3. Squeeze the juice from the half of lemon over your fruit, even fresh pears, as you mix the filling.
  4. Use Tapioca (in place of flour) as a thickener.
  5. A cake lifter helps prevent crust from sticking to the counter top. Continually shower flour (as opposed to “blizzard”) onto the counter top to prevent the crust from sticking.
  6. Also use the scraper to keep your rolling pin clean to avoid putting dents in your crust.
  7. “Thick strips are in” when making lattice top pie. Slide your pastry cutter or pizza cutter along a metal ruler to keep the strips straight.
  8. Once your crust is in place, be sure to brush on the egg wash.
  9. Wrap pie plate with a ring of foil to prevent the edges of the crust from getting too brown or burning. While my mom taught me to cover the edges with foil, I have to admit that I had trouble keeping the foil ON the crust. The ring is the trick! NOTE: Put the foil ring around your pie BEFORE placing it in the over to avoid burning your fingers.
  10. Once you bake the pie, let it cool for 4 hours before cutting into it. Talk about temptation… who can look at pie that long without sneaking a bite? (Fortunately, I baked my pie an hour before bed time. I woke to a cool pie – perfect for breakfast!)

P.S. Pull tabs on the ends of cling wrap help secure the roll and make it easier to dispense without the saran clinging to itself. Seriously, who knew?! That tip alone might have been worth the drive.

Because it’s Friday on, I’m sharing with you the recipe I used to bake blueberry pie yesterday. I have to confess that I was having “pie envy” as I watched Pear Pie being assembled, and I can’t wait to try my own hand at it very soon. Click here for the recipes Cristen uses for pie crust and $3,000 Pear Pie.

Blue Ribbon Blueberry Pie


  • 4 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup instant tapioca
  • Juice squeezed from ½ fresh lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pastry for double-crust pie (9 inches)
  • 2 tablespoons butter


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degree.
  2. In a large bowl, combine sugar and lemon zest. Add blueberries, squeeze lemon juice over them and then toss gently. Let stand for about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, line a 9-inche pie plate crust. Add filling. Dot with butter; flute edges.
  4. Cover edges loosely with foil ring.
  5. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes. Remove foil; bake 40 minutes longer or until set.
  6. Cool on a wire rack for four hours before serving pie.


COOK’S TIP: Use the remaining pie crust dough to make cinnamon sugar strips. Simply roll out the dough like you would for the lattice top; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 5-10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.