Thursday, 15 September 2011

Classic Blueberry Pie & Kitchen Notes on Feminism

Don't you love it when a friend goes berry picking and ends up with too many? And then when she invites you over to help her 'get rid' of them?

More importantly, don't you love it when you're supposed to go for a walk with said friend, only to have her invite you over to bake pies, instead?

Well worn and well used: Kate Aitken's Canadian Cook Book - first printed in the 1960s, but this copy was reprinted in 1971.

Luscious blueberries, hand-picked in the Annapolis Valley, NS.

My heart was heavy on Monday, and there was nothing I wanted more than to bury my hands in dough and bake pies. My first pie, in fact. This may sound bizarre to many of you, but at the risk of sounding redundant, almost everything I bake in my kitchen - with a few exceptions - is new to me, no matter how simple or classic. It's the I-didn't-own-an-oven-for-a-long-time thing, and I feel the need to reference this fact often to justify my lightweight status in the baking department.

I was really aching to give my new pie plate a try, too - the one given to me by my mother last week - so Erin's invitation was the perfect remedy for a variety of my aches that day.

We used the Fresh Blueberry Pie recipe from Kate Aitken's Canadian Cookbook. A classic. First printed in the 1960s, Erin's mom had scored her a 1971 re-print at a yard sale when Erin first got married. Aside from arming you with hundreds of tried and true recipes, the book offers an interesting viewpoint on the order of the day with its section, "Notes to Brides," instructing young women in the ways of their wifely duties. A tongue-in-cheek addition to any food and social history buff's cookbook collection, if ever I saw one.

While my dough chilled, Erin got to work on her pre-chilled dough to show me the ropes.

My very first pie, nearly completed. Aren't those sugar-coated berries a thing of beauty?

Before & After! Picture 1: My pie on the left, Erin's on the right. Picture 2: My pie at the top, Erin's on the bottom.

While women still have many a glass ceiling to break through, how fortunate are so many of us to cook simply for the love of the craft and its taste, just as the men who cook do, because of the advances made by the women who preceded us? To spend hours in the kitchen, not because it's expected of us or considered among our feminine duties, but because it's where our happy place is? To be given a beautiful stand mixer for your birthday, because it's the lusty appliance of your heart, and not because, well... doesn't every woman want a vacuum cleaner for Christmas?

That's certainly not to say this attitude no longer exists, but my guess is that the women who blog about the food they love, for example, are not being condescended into the baking pans. There were obviously a lot of women who loved to cook back then, too, as well as women who had supportive, equal partners in their lives. But having more of a choice in the matter these days is a beautiful thing. For me, food is an expression of my personality and goes without a trace of obligation.

After doing a little post-pie research, I've only just now come to learn that Kate Aitken was an extremely successful and admirable woman in her day. Upon discovering her biography, I had a 'where have I been?' moment for not having known more about her, given that my greatest interests revolve around politics, women, and food. This is what Amazon had to say about her:
"Born in Beeton, Ontario in 1891, Kate Scott learned the arts of homemaking and business from her parents. A born speaker and educator, she began teaching at only 14 years old. Shortly after her marriage in 1914 to her childhood sweetheart, Henry M. Aitken, Kate began a business canning and preserving the crops from their farm. Soon, residents and restaurants alike were clamouring for her products. As her reputation grew, she was invited by both provincial and federal Departments of Agriculture to lecture across the country. She also became the Director of Women's Activities for the Canadian National Exhibition, a position she held for 14 years.
Kate Aitken's journalistic career was wide and varied. She was a beauty editor for a large Canadian weekly, was the women's editor for the Montreal Standard, and wrote pamphlets for leading food companies. "Mrs. A" was on the radio three times a day, five days a week and audiences loved her no-nonsense recipes and down-to-earth advice.
After retiring from broadcasting in 1957, Aitken by no means slowed down. She devoted her time to working for the United Nations, UNICEF, and as a member of the Board of Directors for the CBC. Her tireless work and seemingly limitless talent has left a legacy for all Canadians."
You can read even more about her on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Archives, where she hosted radio show from 1948-1950.

While her work and perspective may still have been gendered, she was also working within the social and power structures of the day, so leaving such a big mark in otherwise male-dominated industries is to her credit indeed. I wonder what she'd be like if she were a food blogger of today's generation? I'm admittedly a little fascinated by her now, so will be looking for more Kate Aitken reading material in the very near future.

I definitely have gender roles and issues on the mind these days - hence the heavy heart - so the timing of this recipe coming into my life is interesting. It makes me all the more grateful that I get to come home to my thoughtful, supportive, and respectful, F.


Social commentary aside, I might try a dough recipe with a larger yield next time, since my new pie plate is so big that I had to roll the dough quite thin in order for it to fit. While it was delicious and I was completely pleased with myself over the results, I do prefer to have a slightly thicker pie crust.

If you haven't already tried it, here is a recipe for Peanut Dipping Sauce that Erin shared with me back in June. I could drink it straight from the jar she makes it in, I tell you. 

And in case you want to give Kate Aitkin's pie recipe a try - or any of her lovely variations - here is its close-up.


Autumn is starting to make its first appearances in town and there doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to make and preserve all the things that are currently fresh and delicious! This is why I was so happy to share in late summer's bountiful blueberries. They are just perfect for an early autumn treat, like blueberry pie, n'est-ce pas? 

(Thank you, Erin!) 

What's your favourite way to bake or preserve autumn's way into town?


  1. Mmmm...I was planning on making one final batch of strawberry shortcake tonight, but this post is making me want to make peach pie instead!

    I love reading and talking about homemaking and how its evolved over the last 50+ years. I think we're in a really interesting era of women (and men) choosing to put more value on homemaking. I was raised by a staunch feminist and never EVER would have imagined that I'd grow up to be a housewife, but it's just what feels right :)

  2. I start Autumn off by bottling beets and mustard pickles. Next comes Salsa (although I make Salsa all year long). Given it's my favourite time of year, I can't wait to get the jars and all that goes with storing up those wonderful foods for winter. My next item on the list is Spiced Pears and I can't wait to see how it turns out.

    This last blog was one of my favourite reads. The pies look absolutely amazing. Those sugary blueberries just oozing out from under that lovely crust. Keep it coming as it makes my day when I see a new post. I quickly get a cup of tea, sit back, read, smile and walk back to my "happy place"...the kitchen!

  3. I've been meaning to "pop in" for over a week now to wish you a belated Happy Birthday! I missed it by a mile, didn't I? Hope you had a great time!
    You photos look absolutely amazing!
    The sugar coated berries conjure up images of white winters, something we love but don't get much of where we live!
    You know, I've done lots of fruit crumbles and tarts but never a covered fruit pie. You've inspired me, will have to send the kids out to the very back of the garden to pick those berries!

  4. WEIRD I just made my first ever pie crust last weekend! It turned out alright, although I thought my pie crust was a bit too thick :)

    Looks yummy- my favourite pie ever is apple....

  5. Fabulous pies and fabulous post, so interesting and I LOVE your photos too.

  6. Your intelligence and critical thought makes this recipe appear all the more delicious. I'm proud of you bella - and was spoiled with your cooking this weekend. Thanks for sharing your beautiful self with us all through the window of these mouth-watering pictures and savoury thoughts.

  7. Nothing lifts a heavy heart like a piece of pie baked with love! Hope it worked. ♥