Berries – bright red, dusty blue or almost black – are one of my great joys in summer. The stores are filled with strawberries, blackberries and raspberries, but I’m really excited to see the blueberries. It’s early for local berries, but the promise is there, piled high in the produce department. Eaten fresh and plain, mixed in fruit salad, or used as a garnish; scooped on as a topping, a filling, or an accent; and especially baked into a pie, cake or tart, berries are a voice of summer.
It seems like strawberries are in stores 50 weeks a year. Raspberries and blackberries go in and out of season from exotic or nearby climates, but the fragile blueberries seem to come mostly from the east coast, following spring north as the weather warms. When I see the blueberries, I know it will be summer soon.
I like to keep a bowl of fruit salad in the fridge year round for snacking and breakfast. Blueberries add a spike of color, texture, and flavor like nothing else. I’m always thrilled to see blueberries back in my mix and mourn their loss in the fall.
Local berries are still a few weeks away. On the hotline at Jones Farm in Shelton (203-929-8425), Farmer Jones says that strawberry picking will begin in June. Keep calling for the start date. If you’ve never eaten a just-picked berry, warm from the sun, you’re missing out. Blueberry picking follows in July. The seasons are short and keep moving up the coast. The Maine wild low bush blueberry season can extend into September.
Strawberries are best eaten fresh – by themselves, dipped in chocolate, crushed and sugared over shortcake, or sliced as a topping. You don’t see much baking with strawberries – too watery, I suspect. Precious raspberries and blackberries are usually doled out to garnish confections or sparingly mixed in with other fruits for color and texture. They’re special occasion berries.
Blueberries, on the other hand, can bat both ways, fresh or cooked. In a fruit mix, by themselves on cereal, over ice cream, or eaten by the handful, they can’t be beat. But they’re just as good, maybe better, baked into muffins, pancakes, pies, and cakes. Try some blueberry grunt or slump for a taste of an old-time blueberry dessert. My wife makes a killer blueberry pie when the fruit is plentiful.
Blueberries are also a favored flavor for Chefs creating innovative recipes. In the June issue of Food and Wine there is a recipe for Grilled Doughnuts with Blueberry Sauce under the catchy headline, “Grill Doughnuts for Dessert.” I was struck by the surreal concept of the recipe. I just can’t imagine a scenario where there are six day-old glazed doughnuts that need to be used up. In our house, it’s rare for a doughnut to go uneaten – never six. But the grilling idea was intriguing and the blueberry sauce recipe looked good.
With no doughnuts on hand, pound cake might be a good substitute. While visiting in Georgia last winter, I was the beneficiary of several excellent pound cakes. I even got the recipe for one that exchanges cream cheese for some of the butter. Sturdy enough for the grill, the cake seemed like a good idea. Visit FranksFeast.com for the cake recipe. It’s pretty straightforward but does require a little practice.
The blueberry sauce from the magazine, with berry liqueur, lemon and a pinch of ginger, was the hook. (recipe on FranksFeast.com). Over the grilled pound cake with some ice cream on the side, it was a perfect dessert for our Memorial Day cookout.
Smeared with a dab of soft butter, the pound cake was set over the dying coals. Giving off an enticing aroma of caramelizing sugar and browning butter, the cake toasted to a golden brown. As I hoped, the cake was firm enough to hold its shape and withstand turning. A scoop of vanilla ice cream and a generous spoonful of the warmed blueberry sauce completed the colorful picture. Empty plates backed up the enthusiastic praise for this new blueberry dessert.
Bright, colorful and not as sweet as maple syrup, the blueberry sauce was excellent on pancakes the next day. Make a batch and keep it on hand – I can see lots of uses.
You can count on some baskets of berries in my fridge for the rest of the summer. I can’t wait till they’re farmstand local – plentiful and fresh. Maybe we’ll even get to go on a pick-your-own expedition and make our own preserves. My mouth is watering already!