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Luskin: The Blueberry Vote

When the late Dan Darrow was running for the state legislature in my district almost twenty years ago, he handed out a campaign brochure with the recipe for his famous blueberry pie. His opponent accused him of offering pie in the sky.

Dan was a Democrat; his opponent was Republican. During the second half of the twentieth century, Vermont was briefly a two-party state. For nearly 150 years before that, the Republicans dominated state politics. This was before reapportionment, when one town had one vote, skewing power toward small, predominately farming towns and under-representing the cities, where the Democrats lived.

In 1960 in Windham County, this meant that the town of Stratton, with a population of 68, and the town of Brattleboro, with a population just shy of twelve thousand, each had only one vote in the house. According to historian Sam Hand, “Obituaries at that time, not infrequently noted that the deceased had been a Democrat and consequently did not hold political office.”

The Republicans held office, and the real elections were held in the summer, during the primaries, which decided whose name would appear on the ballot. Voters of all stripes learned that voting in the primaries was what really mattered. And in Windham County, nothing much has changed – except now it’s the Democrats who hold most of the power. In Windham County this election cycle, there are four Democrats vying for the two spots for state senate. The only opposition these winners will face in the fall will be Liberty Union candidates.

In recent years, Windham County has voted largely for Democrats, currently the most powerful of the four major parties recognized in Vermont. Since Vermont Election law allows Vermonters to vote in whichever party primary they choose, voters have a lot of leeway in determining which candidates appear on the November ballot – but only if they get out and vote.

This year’s primary is on August 26, during the dog days of summer, when heading for the swimming hole might seem more important than heading to the polls. But Vermont now allows early voting, so it’s possible to stop by the Town Clerk’s office before taking a swim – or while a pie’s in the oven.

For years, I kept the recipe for Dan Darrow’s Famous Blueberry Pie taped inside my pantry cupboard, but in an ill-considered fit of housecleaning, it disappeared. So I called the artist Ellen Darrow, Dan’s widow and my neighbor, who recited the recipe to me over the phone – complete with her variations. It’s an unusual recipe, where the berries, lemon juice and brown sugar are cooked in a saucepan before being turned into an oil crust and baked. If this is pie in the sky, I’ll take it. But I like to think that this is simply local politics in Vermont.

Darrow’s Famous Blueberry Pie

Courtesy of Ellen Darrow, who gave it to her husband Dan Darrow to use in a political brochure when he first ran for the Vermont House in 1996.

Set Oven to 450

Oil Crust
2 cups flour sifted with a generous pinch of salt
½ c. canola oil
¼ c. milk

Mix oil and milk into flour until it forms a ball. Divide in half. Roll one ball between two pieces of parchment or waxed paper to fit a 9” pie plate. Roll the other and reserve for the top.

Pie Filling
5 c. blueberries
1 T. lemon juice
¾ c. brown sugar
2 T. cornstarch

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan and gently heat until the berries meld. Pour into bottom crust; dot with butter, cover with top pastry, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Be sure to poke vent holes in top.

Bake 10 minutes at 450 and 30 minutes at 325 or until top is brown and berries bubble.


Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.
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