Family Outing: Wild Blueberries
August 8, 2008
I’m afraid I gave the impression on Tuesday that my grandpa and I had a monopoly on last week’s berry picking. Not so. In fact, the whole family piled into the car on Saturday morning and set off into the woods, through a maze of gravel roads until we arrived at what my grandpa’s neighbor told him was a prime blueberry patch. Armed with pails, we fanned out on a knoll that was crawling with blueberry bushes (not to mention horse flies; um: ouch). Being our typically competitive family, there was a lot of teasing about who could amass the biggest haul. And, being my typically victorious sister, she was the clear winner (though, as Kevin was quick to point out, her pail was filled with quite a bit of debris; twigs and leaves do not a delicious pie make), gathering almost twice as much as anyone else.
Growing up, we’d always visit the same blueberry spot: Palisade Head, a rocky outcropping jutting out into Lake Superior, embraced by sweeping views. It’s gravely soil is dotted with blueberry bushes, which hugged the earth and bore navy blue fruit in the weeks spanning late July and early August. The patch is not exactly a well-kept secret, however, and the it tends to be crowded and picked over. So we were all excited to try a more secluded, if less dramatic, location.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
We spent about an hour in our patch, roaming from one bush to the next, plucking the tiny blue orbs and dropping them into our buckets, where they’d land at first with a ping in the empty bottom and, later, with a muted thud, as the berries lined the bottom. We all came out with blue-stained hands and itchy bug bites. My mom, who fell into a shallow, but rocky, hole also emerged with a prize winning bruise (she’s a tough one). And, oh, did we come out with berries. I’m guessing we picked at least a gallon of berries in all—and that’s even after the inevitable snacking we did as we picked. A gallon is a lot in terms of wild blueberries, which are much smaller than the gumball-sized berries you see in the grocery stores. It’s several pies worth, which is a very exciting prospect.
To celebrate our haul, we stopped at a bar that appears out of nowhere, like an oasis, on the back roads and each had a cold beer. It might’ve been 5 o’clock somewhere, but it wasn’t even noon in Northern Minnesota. But we’d earned it, dontcha know (sorry; couldn’t resist). Later that night, we celebrated again, when I decided to put some of the berries to work in a dessert. I fashioned a makeshift cobbler, which, thanks to the berries and a hefty scoop of ice cream, was quite lovely. But I probably should’ve stuck to a recipe; my biscuits were slightly leaden and the blueberry filling was a bit dry.
Once we got home (along with a generous portion of the family’s blueberry stash), I started looking for blueberry cobbler recipes and settled on this one because, I admit, it was the knock-out of the bunch. How great are those mini biscuits? So mod. And they’re delicious too: light and ever so slightly coarse, with the addition of cornmeal. And the blueberry carpet hiding beneath the biscuits was outstanding. The recipe let the berries shine by sweetening them up just a touch and by giving them body and ooze. They bubbled up through the biscuits like a sapphire-hued molten lava, staining the sides of the baking dish and our faces as we devoured it on Tuesday night.
Adapted from Food & Wine
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup finely ground cornmeal
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Scant 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
6 cups blueberries (2 pounds)
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon potato starch or cornstarch
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar (I used Sugar in the Raw)
Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350°. In a food processor, pulse the flour, cornmeal, 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, the baking powder, cinnamon and salt to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the 2/3 cup buttermilk and pulse just until a smooth dough forms. On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough into a ball. If the ball is sticky, knead in additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Flatten slightly, then roll out the dough to a 1/2-inch thickness. Using a floured 1 1/2-inch round biscuit cutter, stamp out 32 rounds; pat the scraps together and reroll if necessary.
In a medium bowl, toss the berries with the honey, orange juice, lemon zest, potato or corn starch and the remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Pour the berries into a 2-quart baking dish. Arrange the biscuit rounds over the fruit in rows so they touch but do not overlap. Brush the rounds with the remaining 1 tablespoon of buttermilk and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the fruit juices are bubbling and thickened and the biscuits are golden brown. Let cool slightly then serve with ice cream.