As a long-time Tulsa attorney, Joseph L. Hull has spent much of his life negotiating deals. Two summers ago he found himself up against a woman with little tolerance for compromise: June, the “pie-warden,” as Hull affectionately dubs her, of the Tulsa State Fair. I recently spent a Sunday afternoon with Hull sharing a slice of pie and listening to his tale of being the sole male contestant in the annual pie competition. The award winning recipe is below.
Joe’s Blueberry Pecan Crunch Pie
1 Pillsbury piecrust, completely thawed
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled
6 tablespoons butter
½ cup Bon Appetit Lemon Cake (available at QuikTrip)
5-6 cups of fresh blueberries
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons Minute tapioca
¼ teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon Vietnamese or Mexican cinnamon
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1½ cups sugar
Grate apple into a mixing bowl, using largest slot of a grater. Take a linen cloth and ring out as much of the juice as possible. Cut butter into ¼-inch cubes. Place in freezer for a few minutes to chill. Preheat oven to 375.
Take thawed piecrust and flatten into pie dish. Make sure to let some of the crust overlap onto the edge because it will shrink in the baking process. Cook until the crust is lightly browned and remove from oven.
Crumble pound cake into a sauté pan. Cook on medium heat, shaking occasionally, until the crumbles are good and crunchy. Spread crumbles into the cooled piecrust.
Take 3 cups of blueberries and stir into a medium sized saucepan. Mash berries with a potato masher, leaving some berries intact. Turn stove up to medium heat and let the berries cook down by half.
As the berries are cooking, mix crust topping: stir in ½ cup flour, 1 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Remove cubed butter from freezer and place into a mixing bowl. Using your hands, squish the butter creating small, feathery tufts. Once you’ve smooshed all of the butter, add the pecans.
Back to the berries: Once they’ve reduced by half, take them off the stove and pour into another large bowl. Stir in the following ingredients one at a time, in this order:
Grated and strained apple, remainder of uncooked blueberries (1-3 cups, depending on the size of the pie), zest of one lemon, juice of half a lemon, tapioca, ginger, cinnamon, several grindings of fresh nutmeg and sugar.
Pour pie filling into the crust, on top of the crumbled lemon pound cake. Bake 12 minutes, allowing the fresh berries to swell up and ooze. Remove from oven and sprinkle on the topping, smoothing gently with a spatula. Put pie back in the oven and bake 35-40. The topping should be just browning and sinking into the dish. The blueberry juice should be bubbling up around the edges.
Let the pie cool for 15-30 minutes before enjoying with or without vanilla ice cream on the side.
Joe Hull: I don’t want to shock you because, you know, but I did win the Tulsa County Fair Pie Contest. So, you know, you’re not talking to a rookie here.
Today’s dish, the Okie dish, is Joe’s Blueberry Pecan Crunch Pie, mm-mm. I don’t know why I did the pie contest. It was in August, so it’s just not quite the season. So, I mean, there were no blueberries anywhere. And finally I found a place. And man, were they expensive. But by the time I got back the house, it was two o’clock. And the little rule thing said that you’ve got to have your pie in by four o’clock. And I’m thinking, “Oh, man, this is trouble.” And I’m looking at the clock; I’ve got the topping done, I get it in the dish and now, I’m at the 45-minute mark where you cook it and I’m at forty-five minutes before the four o’clock thing. So, I’m thinking, “Well, maybe it’s not a rigid deal,” you know. So, the only thing I could do is drive out there. I leave the pie in the oven. I get out there. I walk into this big room, and I’m looking all around and I said, “Who’s in charge of the pie contest around here?” And they – and these people look at me like, “Oh, that’s June.” And all of a sudden I hear this, “Uh, I’m June.” And I walk over there [laughs] – and you know, how it is sometimes when you look at somebody and you’re thinking, “Uh-uh, I’m not going to have a chance with this chick.” She’s probably 70, real short-cropped hair, tall, rough looking chick. Like, “Don’t mess with me, I’m June.” So, I walk over and I said, “Hey, June. How are doing? Hi, I’m Joe Hull. I’m cooking a pie as we speak right now.” And so I said, “I don’t think I’m going to make it by 4:00.” And so, there’s this long pause and she’s just looking at me and she’s kind of looking up and down, you know. She said, “Mr. Hull, maybe you ought to enter next year.” [laughs] Well, you know what the answer to that question was. No. You’re not here by 4:00, you’re out of here. So, I’m just thinking to myself, “I got to get my ass home.”
And I mean to tell you, I drove down 21st Street like a maniac and picked up Debbie. Debbie’s got this hot pie dish on her lap. And I mean we are running red lights. I’m driving there – I’ve got a Porsche and, I mean, I never –I mean this was totally illegal. We get there. This is no kidding, the door is closing. The door is closing. And I had to like duck and the pan is real hot. And I’m running out there and there’s this whole line of women. I’m the only man. So, I said, “Well, hey, do you know when they’re going to, you know, make up their mind on this thing.” She said, “Well.” This was like Saturday, and she said, “On Thursday.” So, I went out there on Thursday and went over this like deli case, and then they had this little card that if you got a ribbon, it had like a dot on the card. And my card had two dots on it. So, I went over and got to this woman and I said, “Come here. Do you know what this means right here?” And she looked at me and she said, “Is that your pie?” And I said, “Yeah.” She said, “Well, this one right here means you won the Best Fruit Pie.” And she said, “This one over here means you won Best Pie in Show of all 54.” [laughs] And I started jumping around like a monkey. You know, how monkeys jump. [laughs]