It’s funny how traditions get made. My next-door-neighbor-sister-in-law and I used to bring our kids blueberry picking, mostly for the distraction. The farm was ten minutes away, the kids would run around the high bushes, pick a few, spill their cans, eat a few more and the adventure would be over. At home, I’d get the handful of berries we salvaged, and the responsibility of making something out of them to share, most times an Amish Blueberry Cake.* That would be it for the season.
As our kids got older, they decided procuring the fruit was more work than adventure, and about that time, blueberry picking morphed into my thing. In late summer, I’d drive past the farm scanning for the handmade sign at the bottom a dirt road, telling me the fields were ripe. When it appeared, off I’d go. Over the next fifteen or so years, things didn't change much other than I’m on an email list now, and I don’t even have to drive to the farm to know when the crop is ripe. This year, the berries came early.
Saturday, I arrived early in the morning and for the first half hour, it was me, the bushes and the birds. They squawked as I approached too near their perches, feathers rustled as they lit off over my head. A hawk scree-screed in the high pines overlooking the bushes. A single propeller plane lumbered overhead and across the cranberry bogs, someone tried to start a chain saw, but it coughed out, leaving me and the birds again. I moved from bush to bush, reaching up, pulling down berry-laden branches, and dropping the little orbs, thunk, thunk, thunk into the plastic container hanging around my neck. The whole thing is on the honor system. Pick as many as you want, put them in quart containers and place your cash in a box on the wall of a dilapidated shed at the edge of the fields. In less than two hours, I had serenity, five quarts of blueberries and a plan.
In all the best ways, everything is “farm to table” these days, and Saturday it was my turn. I called next door, then to my husband’s mother a mile away, invited everyone to a blueberry-themed dinner, and started cooking. Over the next few hours, I buzzed around the kitchen making a syrup for blueberry cordials, a blueberry spread to go with cheese, a spicy compote to accompany grilled pork, a wheat berry salad with fresh blueberries, blueberry vinaigrette with which to toss mixed greens, and, of course, blueberry pie.
Every once in a while, you have one of those days when everything comes together, a day you will hold in your mind and savor, well, like a ripe fruit. I’m not sure what was best, the picking, the cooking, or simply sitting around my kitchen table with people I love, enjoying, ahem, the fruits of my labors.
Then again, maybe it was the leftover blueberry pie I had Sunday morning for breakfast.
* Amish Blueberry Cake
½ cup room temperature butter
½ cup room temperature butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 cup blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of cloves, nutmeg or other spice to your taste.
Cream the butter, then add the sugar a little at a time and cream it again. Add the eggs and some of the flour, sifted with the salt and baking powder. Blend this slowly, adding the milk and then the rest of the flour. Wash the berries, dry them on a towel, and then dust them with some flour. Add them to the batter just before baking. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9x13 inch pan. Sprinkle the batter with the cinnamon sugar spice mix. Bake at 325 for 45 minutes.