Blueberries: An ode to a summer delight
June 28, 2019
One of our favorite sights at the Historic Lewes Farmers Market is the bright-orange Bennett Orchards tent. This time of year we love to see the beautiful array of plump blueberries nestled in their boxes, begging to be taken home. We never leave with less than 2 or 3 pints, which might get us through a few days - just in time to restock at the Wednesday Crooked Hammock location of the Lewes market.
When I start thinking about the best way to use these fresh berries in recipes, I find myself reluctant to actually cook them. They’re so perfectly juicy, my first instinct is to toss them on a bowl of breakfast cereal. With their bright flavor and texture, they can enhance even the most boring bowl of bran flakes or Special K.
If you look closely at the photo of boxed blueberries, you can see their faint covering of dusty white “bloom.” This is a good sign the berries are just picked and haven’t traveled a long distance (unlike the ones in your supermarket produce aisle). You can also see their generous size, typical of “highbush” blueberry varieties.
Blueberries are among the few commercially available fruits native to North America and are one of two types: highbush and lowbush. Highbush varieties are sold fresh, sought after for their generous size and delicious flavor. Lowbush varieties are smaller and most often processed into juices and jams.
If you reach for a boxed blueberry muffin or pancake mix, you may not find a single blueberry inside. Most processed foods such as these use corn syrup, starches, oils, dyes and artificial flavors to create little nuggets that masquerade as blueberries. You can usually tell in the finished product because the so-called blueberries are hard pellets, not soft berries.
When you get your fresh blueberries home from the market, resist the temptation to rinse them unless you’re planning to eat them immediately. That “bloom” is a protectant that keeps the berries from over-softening. Fresh, unwashed berries will remain crisp at room temperature for a day or so and in the refrigerator for up to a week.
If you’d like to freeze your berries, simply arrange them in a single layer on waxed paper on a baking sheet. Place them in your freezer for about 15 minutes, then transfer them to a zip-top bag and keep them frozen until you’re ready to bake them into muffins or scones or real blueberry pancakes.
Peak season for blueberries in this area runs from mid-June to mid-August, so this is prime time for beautiful berries. But, if your blueberries start to fade before you have the chance to eat them fresh, consider making a compote, jam or jelly with them. Another option is to mix them into an overnight oatmeal, as in the recipe that features chia seeds in the recipe below.
Although my first choice is to eat them fresh, out of hand or sprinkled on cereal, I’ve included an interesting recipe for blueberry cornbread. It isn’t very sweet and the cooked berries burst with juicy flavor, so it’s a nice choice for breakfast or brunch. For a savory appetizer (and a dish to use the less-than-freshest berries) consider the blueberry and brie tartlets. See you at the farmers market!
2 C rolled oats
2 T chia seeds
2 1/2 C almond milk
2 T maple syrup
1 C fresh blueberries
The night before, stir together rolled oats, chia seeds, almond milk and maple syrup in a lidded container. Seal and place in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, stir in blueberries. Yield: 3 to 4 servings. Note: to serve warm, heat in the microwave for 1 minute on high before adding blueberries.
1 C flour
1 C cornmeal
1 T baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 C buttermilk
1/3 C butter
3 T maple syrup
1 C fresh blueberries
Preheat oven to 400 F. Add butter to a cast-iron skillet and place in the oven to melt. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl; set aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and maple syrup. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the buttermilk mixture and stir just until incorporated. Add the melted butter from the skillet along with the blueberries and fold into the batter. Pour the batter into the skillet and bake until the cornbread is golden brown and crispy, about 20 minutes. Yield: 6 servings.
Blueberry Brie Tartlets
16 mini filo tart shells, defrosted
1/4 C sliced almonds
1 C fresh blueberries
2 T honey
1 t lemon zest
2 T lemon juice
1 T finely minced rosemary leaves
8 oz brie
Bake tart shells according to package directions; allow to cool. In a dry skillet, toast the almonds until fragrant and golden brown. Remove from skillet and chop; set aside. In the same skillet over medium, combine blueberries, honey, lemon zest, juice and rosemary. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened to jam-like consistency, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Remove rind from brie and cut cheese into cubes. Place cheese into a mixing bowl and allow to stand at room temperature until softened, about 30 minutes. With an electric mixer, beat the brie until smooth and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Spoon cheese into tart shells, top with blueberry mixture and sprinkle with almonds.