Local blueberries are in season – too delicious to miss!

June 26, 2020

Once again, blueberry season has begun. From mid-June through mid-August, Bennett Orchards, our favorite local supplier, can be found under their orange tent offering an abundant supply for sale at the weekly famers markets in the area. This week’s variety is the early-season Spartan, which features large, beautifully colored fruits.

There are two basic types of blueberry plants, highbush and lowbush. The former are typically packaged for sale as fresh berries, while the lowbush plants produce smaller berries used in jams and muffin mixes. Blueberries belong in the heath family where you’ll also find cranberries, huckleberries and bilberries.

Blueberries are one of the few fruits indigenous to North America and have grown in the wild for centuries. Native Americans called them “star berries” in reference to the five-pointed star seen on the blossom end of each berry. They used blueberries both as a food source and for medicinal purposes. Dried berries would be powdered and mixed with smoked meats to create a preserved food similar to jerky. Roots of the plant were brewed into tea for women during childbirth, and syrups made from the fruit were used to treat coughs. Because of its reputation for high nutritional content and antioxidants, the past several years have seen a dramatic increase in consumption of blueberries.

When you bring your box (or boxes) of berries home from the market or grocery store, don’t rinse them until just before you’re ready to eat them or use them in a recipe. If you don’t plan to use them right away, you can easily freeze the berries by arranging them in a single layer on a sheet of waxed paper in a rimmed baking pan. Place the pan in the freezer for about 15 minutes (they freeze very quickly), then create a funnel with the waxed paper to pour them into a zip-top bag.

They’ll keep in the freezer for several weeks, but you’ll want to use them before they have a chance to develop freezer burn. Because they’re small, you don’t need to defrost them before adding them to your batter for pancakes or tea bread. Once they’ve been frozen, they don’t do well in recipes that aren’t cooked, so be sure to choose fresh berries for a dessert like the one in the photo.

This was inspired by a photograph of something labeled a “blueberry Napoleon,” but it really wasn’t quite a Napoleon. It looked like a few sheets of puff pastry were sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, then cut into 3-inch squares and baked. A cream cheese filling was layered with blueberries between the baked pastry pieces and topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

Instead of that higher-calorie cream cheese filling, I opted to make a variation with lemony whipped cream flavored with vanilla extract and lemon zest. I find frozen puff pastry shells are easier to work with than the sheets, because they don’t need to be defrosted or rolled out. After baking for just under 20 minutes, the tender shells are ready to become the base for a pretty dessert.

In addition to tossing fresh blueberries into a refreshing smoothie, over your morning cereal or as a colorful garnish for your salad, blueberries can be baked into all sorts of sweet pastries from muffins to quick bread to a “dump cake” baked in a skillet. Be sure to get your blueberries while they’re in season.

Lemon Blueberry Pastries

6 frozen puff pastry shells
1 pt fresh blueberries
1 C heavy cream
1 t lemon zest
1 T sugar
1 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 425 F. Remove frozen pastry shells from package and arrange them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden, about 18 to 20 minutes. Remove shells from the oven and gently pry off the round “caps” with a knife; set aside. Use the knife to remove the damp clump of dough inside and discard. While the shells cool, rinse the blueberries and drain completely. In a mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. To assemble the pastry, fill the open centers with a few berries and cover generously with whipped cream. Place the caps on top of the berries; add a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with berries. Yield: 6 servings.

Blueberry Dump Cake

1/2 C butter
1 C flour
1 C milk
1 C sugar
1 pt blueberries

Preheat oven to 375 F. Put the butter in a 10-inch skillet and place it in the oven to melt. Once the butter has melted, swirl it around to coat the inside of the skillet. Pour the melted butter into a mixing bowl. Add the flour, milk and sugar; whisk until smooth. Pour the batter into the skillet and sprinkle blueberries evenly across the top. Bake until edges start to brown, about 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Blueberry Balsamic Salad

4 C baby spinach
4 C baby arugula
1/2 C thinly sliced red onion
1 C blueberries
1/3 C chopped pistachios
1/3 C feta cheese, crumbled
1 T Balsamic vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1 t maple syrup
pinch salt
3 T olive oil
black pepper, to taste

Divide the greens among 4 salad plates. Top with onion slices, blueberries, pistachios and feta cheese. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together Balsamic vinegar, mustard, syrup and salt. Gradually add the olive oil, whisking constantly so dressing emulsifies. Drizzle over the salad plates and finish with freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Yield: 4 servings.

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