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Monday, July 21, 2014

Singing the Blues

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
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
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. 


Anne Gallagher said...

That cake sounds wonderfully delicious. Isn't it late for blueberries? I thought they came in June? Or maybe I'm wired for NC temps.

Anyway, we're here, so I'll shoot you an email.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I don't even care all that much for blueberries but your meal - and the experience itself! - sounds delicious. :)

Madeline @ The Shellshank Redemption

mshatch said...

Sounds like a lovely way to spend the day - except for the cooking part - lol.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Like your kids, I wouldn't be much for picking them, but everything you made with those blueberries sounds delicious.

Robin said...

How many places still run on the honor system? Did you feel as if you stepped back in time that day???

And that dinner.... who knew you could make so many DIFFERENT things with blueberries??? Not me. That was great.

Now I am hungry...

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

What a lovely day and dinner sound yummy. I copied down the recipe for future use.

Catherine A. Winn said...

MMMMMMM-good! Thanks for the recipe and I enjoyed reading this post so much :)

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

What a beautifully written post. I truly loved it. Your descriptions of the sounds and overall atmosphere of blueberry picking were so perfect, I felt like I was right there with you. (But I'm not putting the bucket around my neck!)

That cake sounds wonderful.

klahanie said...

Such a superbly lucid masterpiece of writing. From "farm to table". Can't get much fresher than that.

Now, I have the urge to get some blueberries. Thank you for this.

Gary :)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

That sounds like a really delicious meal. I'll bet it was fun to plan it all with the blueberry theme!

Gail said...

I know the flavor of fresh can't be beat. When the labor of love is mixed with that, it's heavenly.

Gina Gao said...

This is a really beautiful post.


'Yellow Rose' Jasmine said...

Your writing on this post is especially lovely. It is just the right combo of prose and reality that seems to be very meaningful to you.
My husband has decided that blueberries are his favorite fruit recently and at our new home in SoCal they are super tasty! Love all your wonderful blueberry food!

Lisa said...

Oh I loved this post. And because BB season is already over here, I bought some yesterday on sale and now I know what I'm going to do with them, Amish Blueberry Cake! I used to pick BB at a friends house and invariably it ended up happening while it was raining, not hard, but enough to keep us cooled and the berries fresh. Such a lovely time we had doing that. I too, took my kids along (they were teens by then) and they liked it, mostly because we'd talk the whole time... it was wonderful uninterrupted family time. Good memories colored blue...

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Liza,

How wonderful. It felt warming to read your post. How simple, yet beautiful. To find the time to blueberry pick, then create all those wonderful dishes for your friends and family is so caring and sweet!

In our hustle and bustle world one has no time to enjoy the simple things in life. I wish I had the opportunity to do something like that. I LOVE to back and I can't wait to try your recipe. THANKS!

What a special memory..... I don't think I'll ever forget reading it....

Arlee Bird said...

Mmmm! Blueberries! Good and good for you. I love 'em.

Tossing It Out