Blueberry Picking, Blueberry Pie

 

blueberry picking 1

 

I want to get this out there while there are still blueberries on the bushes.  A couple of weeks ago, we went blueberry picking with my husband’s father, sister, and our two little nieces, at Versluis Orchards near Grand Rapids, MI.  The pictures pretty much tell the rest of the story.  The blueberries were gorgeous, as well as delicious, and I found myself picking like mad, but leaving some of the most photogenic branches until the clouds cooperated for good lighting.  At which point I’d grab my camera, and (with a pang for the blueberries not filling my bucket during the moments of shooting) do my best to capture the lovely morsels, in all their shades from translucent green to lavender blue.  Then I’d force myself to grab the ripest ones from the shot and drop them in the bucket.

 

blueberry picking 2

 

blueberry picking 3

 

blueberry picking 4

 

Even with two youngsters in tow, we managed to pick a LOT of berries, about 10 pounds between us all.  They were astoundingly cheap compared to what you would pay at the grocery store, or even at a farm stand.  By way of something to think about, I’ll point out that these berries weren’t organic, although they were about as local to our location at the time as you could get.  And totally scrumptious.  There was a good essay on The Yellow House last week about how it’s not as simple as just choosing something labeled “local” or “organic,” and I agree 100%, although I think that either of those, especially local, are a great place to start.  My next step may be to ask more questions of the farmers, find out what are their thoughts about their practices.  I’m pretty shy by nature, but I’ll try to make that happen.

 

blueberry picking buckets

 

Anyway, there are so many good recipes out there that have blueberries in them (as the older niece pointed out) that it seems almost needless to include one here, but I will anyway.  It’s pretty simple, even if you don’t make pie often and/or have little ones sticking their fingers in your crust, it will turn out fine.  The five of us adults handily polished off the whole pie after dinner . . . it can’t have been that bad.

 

blueberry pie

 

Blueberry Pie

(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

 

For the crust:

You’ll need 2 1/4 cups of flour.  You can vary the percentage of whole wheat flour up to 100%, which is my personal favorite.  Since there were kids who might eat this pie too, I used 1 cup whole wheat, 1 1/4 white flour.

Put the flour in a bowl and add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp sugar

Take 1 stick unsalted butter, cold from the fridge.  Cut it into pieces of about 1 tablespoon each.  You want to mix it into the flour so that tiny chunks of butter remain throughout the dough, without letting it melt or blend into the flour too much.  If you have a pastry blender, use it.  If not, my still-favorite method, especially if it’s not too hot in the kitchen, is to use my fingers to break up the butter into the four.  You can also use two knives, I have never gotten the hang of this, but one of my aunts is really good at it.  In any case, when you’re done, there should be some pea-sized chunks, as well as some dough with the texture of coarse cornmeal.

Put some ice and water into one of the measuring cups you’ve already used, and pour a little bit if it onto the butter and flour.  Start with just a few tablespoons, and mix it gently in.  You want just enough water that the dough will form a tidy ball and not look too dry.  Mix in just a little more ice water at a time until it looks good to you.  How much you need varies with the humidity, the kind of flour you use, etc.  When the dough is moist enough, divide it into two pieces, roughly round-shaped, and either cover the bowl or transfer the dough to an air-tight container.  Put it in the fridge to rest for about 1/2 hour.

 

In the meantime, place a rack below the center of the oven, preheat the oven to 400° F, and make the filling:

Rinse 5 heaping cups of blueberries.  A good method to separate any debris from the berries is to put them in a bowl, fill it with water, and stir until the debris floats to the top and you can pour it off.

Pour off all the water, and add to the bowl with the berries:

3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado or natural sugar, a hint of brown sugar flavor is really nice with the berries)

3 Tablespoons cornstarch

1 Tablespoon lemon juice (you can add some lemon zest as well if your lemon isn’t sprayed and waxed)

Mix all this together and let stand for about 15 minutes.

Roll out one half of the crust into as good a circle shape as you manage, about 1/4 inch thick.  Put that half into an 9-inch pie pan, pressing it against the bottom and sides.  Use any pieces that stick out over the edge to patch any holes or gaps around the edges.

Roll out the second half of the crust.  For fun, instead of cutting a vent for steam, you can cut out shapes with a small cookie cutter before you put the crust on, and use the cut out shapes to decorate your pie (I got this lovely idea from my friend Megan years ago—thank you!).

Pour the filling into the bottom crust, put the top crust over it, and pinch the two crusts together around the edges.  Again, you can use any overhanging bits to patch holes.

To get your cookie cutter shapes to stick, and also to give your crust a little bit more deliciousness, you can glaze the crust with 1 egg yolk whisked with a little water.  If you can’t foresee using the egg white for anything (throwing it into an omelet, pancake batter, etc.) you can use the whole egg, the egg wash will be thicker.  Anyway, brush the egg wash all over the top crust with a pastry brush.  Stick your extra cookie cutter shapes on top, and brush more glaze over them.  Sprinkle a bit of sugar (the large crystal kind is nice, but regular granulated sugar works fine) on the glaze to give the crust a little more sparkle for your eyes and your mouth.

Bake the pie at 400° for 30 minutes.  Put a cookie sheet underneath to catch bubbling juice, lower the temperature to 350° and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until thick juices are bubbling through the holes and the crust is a warm brown all over, and darker in places.  If the crust starts to get too brown before the pie is done, you can try covering the whole thing or just the edges with aluminum foil.

Do you have a favorite blueberry recipe?  I’d love to know!

 

blueberry picking 5

 

 

 

 

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Tart Cherry Sorbet à la Jeni’s

 

cherry sorbet tile

 

So last summer, if you happened to be watching this blog, you might have noticed a feature in the sidebar on all the amazing ice cream we found, or this post, which mentions Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream.  People, this ice cream, it’s fantastic.  It’s fair to say I’ve never had better in the American style, where the milk and cream flavors predominate.  We got to go there again this summer, and as we sat in the shop, (me alternately closing my eyes, making noises of food bliss, and trying to eat faster so that Bryan wouldn’t get it all) I happened to glance over and saw this book sitting on the shelf above the freezer.  The cover said Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  Expletives may possibly have left my lips, followed by, “is that what I think it is?!?”  We live a long way from Ohio, people, and it’s been a while since I’ve been this excited by a book at first sight.

It turns out this book, it’s about as splendid as can be.  Not just a couple of recipes from the shop—I’m pretty sure every recipe she had at publication is in there.  It’s open source dessert: complete with sauces, candies for mixing in, toppings, sundae recipes, and the exact techniques you need to get the texture and flavor of her ice cream yourself.  Which are, have I mentioned, amazing?

It’s cherry season where we are now (in Michigan) and when we voted on which cherry dessert to make, sorbet was the winner.  I had left the book at home, but between memory and experimentation I was able to replicate a sorbet recipe.  When we got our hands on another copy, it turned out the amount of sugar that we decided was perfect, it was what Jeni already specified.  A note about the corn syrup: this is not something I would normally buy.  But if you read the book or visit the shops, it will be clear to you as it is to me that Jeni is as passionate about quality fresh ingredients, local and organic sourcing, and above all flavor and texture, as anyone could possibly be.  She is also passionate about the science of ice cream and getting the exact result she is after, and therefore I bought corn syrup.  More experimentation on my part will come later.  As a foodie friend of ours said (after eating the sweet corn and black raspberry flavor that we made), “Whatever that book says, you should do it.”  For minimum stress levels, make this the day before you want to serve it, so that you’re sure everything will have time to chill and freeze.

 

 

cherry sorbet towel

 

Tart Cherry Sorbet à la Jeni’s

1 quart fresh tart cherries, pitted.  If you don’t have a cherry pitter, I find the easiest way is to hold the cherry in the fingertips of both hands, and use your two thumbs to split it open and pull out the pit.  It’s ok that the cherries come out in two uneven halves, because the next step is to purée them in a food processor until fairly smooth.  It’s ok if the purée is a little bit chunky and/or still has some bits of cherry skin visible.

Combine the fruit with 3/4 cup sugar (I used natural cane sugar) and 1/3 cup light corn syrup in a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Immediately remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, and put in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours.

Stir in 1 tablespoon kirsch (unsweetened eau de vie distilled from cherries).  Jeni’s original recipe uses lambic or sour beer, and it’s effervescent and delicious.  Amaretto instead of kirsch would also be really, really good.

Pour the cold sorbet mixture into your ice cream freezer and spin until it’s just the consistency of very softly whipped cream, or barely pourable.  This book advises that whipping it too long while it’s freezing will result in too much air being mixed in.  Bryan and I had a big debate about what “barely pourable” means, but despite that and with two experimental batches under my belt, I actually suspect that there’s a bit of leeway here.  I also suspect that if you don’t have a ice cream maker, you could just stick the mixture in a tub in your freezer and as long as you remembered to get it out and stir it fairly frequently for a while, it would come out pretty great.  Anyway, if you are using an ice cream maker, once you think it’s frozen enough, pour it into a container and put it in the freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.  This book advises pressing a sheet of wax or parchment paper onto the surface.

This was as good as it looks, maybe better, with amazingly intense cherry flavor.  Possibly even better eaten side by side with a creamy flavor, like the roasted pistachio.  I’m out of superlatives.  Go eat this!

 

cherry sorbet with pistachio

 

 

 

 

Michigan Winter in Pictures

 

michigan winter 5

 

Out here in Flagstaff, winter is (assuming it snows enough) bright days with the sun bouncing light from the snow everywhere, white too bright to look at and deep dark shadows.  Ponderosa pines collecting snow in huge clumps in their needles, and then when the sun comes out, dropping them with a window-shaking thud on the roof over my head, or on my actual head while I’m shoveling.  It’s getting your skiing in before the snow melts down, and watching the flakes float past my studio windows when it snows again, which is one of my very favorite things about this room.

In Michigan, from whence we just returned, winter is different.  And to me, totally beautiful.  The bare branches against a grey sky are a delicate tracery of subtle colors and shades, more muted but lovely scenes are in the dried branches, the white fields.  After spending the morning playing with my little nieces, I escaped outside with only my camera.  I got that “what are you finding out here to make the picture worth your freezing fingers?” look from at least one Midwesterner I ran across, but that’s the beauty of something unfamiliar, seeing the hibernating landscape with my fresh eyes, I saw worthwhile photos everywhere.

The landscape also meshed well with these thoughts from Kimberly at The Year In Food:

And I love darkness, in the sense that this is a season of long, dark nights, quiet, rest, hibernation. There’s merit to embracing it rather than fighting it and I try my best to do so each year. Perhaps easier said and done from the mild coast of California than in the thick of a midwest winter. But that season of rest is here, nonetheless: the fallow land, the bare trees, the grey skies, the long nights, the snowy mountains off to the east and north. Let’s embrace it, friends.

I often find myself this time of year longing for warmth, summer, light and long days of it.  But seeing a new winter landscape reminds me of the beauty that is here right now, a quiet one perhaps, but one worth enjoying just as it is.  Here’s to embracing your season, wherever you are!

 

michigan winter 1

 

 

michigan winter 2

 

 

michigan winter 3

 

 

michigan winter 4

 

Take the Slow Road

When we’re cruising by on some interstate, all of America looks like a continuous chain of fast food and gas stations, and a background of changing landscapes.

Give me half a chance, though, a day or two when we don’t have to be somewhere in a particular hurry, and I will immediately choose the smaller highways, where speed is limited, giving you the added bonus of actually seeing the quirky shops, restaurants, and farm stands as they pass by.

 

 

The America we get nostalgic for is still out there; the lovely independent restaurants (Luisa’s Cafe in Harbert, MI was particularly good), the shops with hand painted signs you won’t find anywhere else, the local color and flavors that make each region unique (like this antique van? limo? parked at a fruit stand a little further up the Red Arrow Highway).

 

 

 

And then again, nothing makes me happier to be living in our current, fresh-food-abundant era than a taste of genuine 1950’s throwback road food.

It’s out there, go find it!