Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ode to Blueberries


Some things are sweetened by longing.   I put love and freshly picked blueberries in this category.   Falling in love, and finally having that love reciprocated, is at the top of the list of life experiences, of course.    At long last making it to the East Coast to eat ripe blueberries straight from the bush as the sun rises to warm them?  Right up there.

We recently returned from a tour of the Northeast where we were fortunate to spend a week at our relatives’  farm in upstate New York.  We arrived just as the blueberries made their vigorous deep violet appearance. We were in heaven. True blue heaven.

Each morning the youngest cousins woke and ran outside to fill several pints for the farm stand. I tried my best to help, but found that a one for the basket, two for me rhythm felt most comfortable. They soon learned that their aunt is not at all reliable in the Blueberry Picking department.

Here in Northern California I have tried a few times, both in our school garden and at home, to grow blueberries.  The southern highbush variety of blueberry is most successful in the Bay Area.  People claim great success with varieties such as "Revelle" and ""Misty" and "Bluecrop." Like their cousins, Rhododendrons and Azaleas, blueberries love acidic soil. They also like plenty of sun and a sandy well-drained bed.  The key, however, is that their roots must be kept moist as they grow. And they like a nice long, cold night. At the school I have had success with some small bushes producing fruit (before the gophers did their gopher thing) but nothing has grown more and more vigorous each year so that by the third year (which it was at the Neff family farm) you literally cannot keep up with the ripening fruit, glistening pearls of that irresistible sweet and slightly tart taste, bursting with high health and waiting for your nimble fingers, day after summer day.

Flavanols and reversatrol and proanthocyanidins…all sorts of crazy-good-for-you stuff is packaged in these  spherical treats. No wonder they are called Superfood. I teach elementary school gardening students to look for foods with the deep purple color-  this indicates cancer-fighting properties.

Home now, I dream I am picking blueberries. One for the basket…two for me.  This journey to the Northeast was a sort of pilgrimage.  I am grateful for the experience of traveling to a place where these fruits have always thrived and did especially well this year with the late rains, to savor them in their natural, exuberant state of well-being and bright blue productivity. Plus, the fruit of my dreams is only sweeter for my longing.

 Teya and her Aunt Nancy made pies

Here is a favorite "Peak-of-The-Season" Blueberry Pie recipe from an important cookbook called The Berry Bible by Janie Hibler  (only one cup of the blueberries are cooked, the rest are folded in, which gives the pie a freshly picked taste)

Makes 6 Servings:
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1 1/2 (3 cups) fresh blueberries (plus a handful for garnish)
2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 baked 9-inch pie shell
1 cup heavy cream
2-3 tbsp confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in medium saucepan.  Put pan over medium heat and add 1 cup berries and 2/3 cup water.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and turns clear instaed of cloudy looking, about 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir butter, lemon juice, and the remaining 2 cups blueberries.  Pour the filling into prepared pie shell and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Before serving, whip the cream with confectioner's sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form, and spread on top of the filling.  Sprinkle a handful of berries on top of the whipped cream.