Monday, September 14, 2009

the memory of blueberries

During our weekend in Vermont, we mark time through blueberries.

i. friday evening

We leave Boston in the late afternoon, arriving in Vermont mid-evening. Bobbie Sue has held dinner for us, putting hot dogs on the waiting grill as we move our bags to the house and settle in. We eat a salad with fresh lettuce, garden tomatoes, kidney beans and diced avocado, scattered with cubes of sharp cheddar and sprinkled with sunflower seeds.

Once the dinner plates are cleared, Bobbie Sue presents us with blueberry buckle, a dense cake studded with blueberries, rich with cinnamon struesel topping. We portion out generous squares and demolish them in eager forkfuls, licking cinnamon sugar from the corners of our mouths.

ii. saturday morning

There are fresh blueberries with yogurt for breakfast, sweet-tart and deliciously chilled. When breakfast is over, Bobbie Sue takes the remaining berries from their Tupperware container and leaves them in a brown earthenware bowl on the kitchen table. Throughout the morning, we return to the bowl time and time again, seeking handfuls of sweetness at each pass.

iii. saturday night

The kettle on, the teapot ready. Mugs anticipating tea, strainer and tea-cosy awaiting use. We cut pieces of the remaining blueberry buckle, transfer them to plates. Time has intensified the sweetness, deepened the scent of cinnamon. It cries out for the fork to be discarded, for fingers to seek out the errant crumbs.

iv. sunday morning

I wake late, the sun streaming through the windows. I can smell coffee in the air, and so I roll out of the high-framed, crisp-sheeted bed and pad downstairs to the kitchen. Bobbie Sue is at the stove in a flannel dressing gown, and she is keeping a watchful eye on the contents of two cast-iron skillets. There are blueberry pancakes to be had.

She hands me the spatula and tells me to take over while she mixes up another batch of batter. I ladle generous spoonfuls into the skillets, dotting each round with fresh blueberries from another earthenware bowl. The batter spreads; small bubbles form on its surface. The edges turn golden brown. Later, the pancakes swim in rivulets of dark maple syrup, bathed in pools of melted butter.

v. sunday afternoon

The blueberry bushes are ready to be picked again. We pile into the car, a cooler and a stack of plastic buckets at the ready. I hide my hair beneath a hat, sunscreen coating my neck and face and arms.

The stand of bushes lies in sun-dappled shade. There is some conversation at the start, but soon we settle into a meditative silence, broken only by the soft thud of berries falling into our plastic buckets, a patter like gentle rain.

There is an art to finding the ripe blueberries, the ones that have lost their purple tinge and are a true, deep blue beneath their pale bloom. It requires peering into the branches and looking up, because they hide in clusters beneath the leaves. Soon, the world narrows to the branches, the leaves, my hands. There is little eating as we pick. We have already eaten our fill; today, the blueberries are work.

vi. return to boston

I leave Vermont with a plastic bag filled with berries, ready to be frozen and carefully rationed through the winter. But first, I read through a copy of Bobbie Sue's recipe for blueberry buckle. I think of fresh blueberry pancakes with maple syrup. And I find myself in the kitchen, measuring out flour, creaming sugar and butter, and tinkering, just a little, to produce a soft, moist blueberry coffee cake, fragrant with maple and cinnamon. Something to mark the close of summer. Something to mark the memory of blueberries.

Maple-Blueberry Coffee Cake

Adapted from Bobbie Sue's modified version of the blueberry buckle recipe in the King Arthur Flour Cookbook.

(Recipe not for one.)

Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a shallow ten-inch cake tin or cast iron pan.

In a small bowl, combine two-thirds of a cup of flour, two-thirds of a cup of white sugar, and two teaspoons of cinnamon. Rub in one stick of chilled butter, cut into pieces, until the mixture is fine and crumbly. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together two cups of flour, two teaspoons of baking powder, and a half-teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together half a stick of softened butter, half a cup of sugar, a quarter-cup of Grade B maple syrup, one egg and a teaspoon of vanilla until light and fluffy. Measure out half a cup of milk.

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture in batches, alternating with the milk. Once everything is just combined, fold in two cups of fresh or frozen blueberries.

Spoon the batter into the pan and smooth it down. Sprinkle with the cinnamon mixture. Transfer the pan to the oven.

Bake for forty to fifty minutes, or until a knife stuck into the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool. Cake may be served warm or at room temperature, preferably with coffee.


Virgin In The Volcano said...

The Memory of Blueberries should be a poem title. With the line about the world narrowing to branches, leaves, etc.

You've also got me desperate for blueberry pancakes--on a school morning in Boston where they somehow can't get even an Egg McMuffin right.

When are we getting together?

adele said...

Virgin - Will you write it?

I have blueberries in the freezer. Come over on the weekend and I'll make you pancakes. :P

~~louise~~ said...

My "love affair" with blueberries blossomed this past summer. Oh to think of the many years I have neglected their enticing gatherings.

I'll be doing my own blueberrying real soon. I've decided to plant some bushes as soon as I am permanently in PA. My "carefully rationed" blueberries are gone:(

Wonderful post, Adele. Did you see the post I did for Blueberry Month. I really think you will find the recipes worthy of consideration...

adele said...

Louise - Blueberry bushes in your backyard? Definitely exciting. :)

I missed the post about Blueberry Month - I think it went up when I was in Beijing and couldn't access Blogger. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

~~louise~~ said...

Oh yes, Adele. I have it all planned. I'm going to put them right by the new shed I'm going to buy in the Spring. I'm going to get bushes three years old so they fruit the same season!!! I never liked blueberries before except in muffins. This year I discovered taste does change!!!

Julia (alias Yulinka Cooks) said...

Your trip sounds heavenly. What else is there to say?

adele said...

Julia - It was a fantastic weekend. :)

Cakelaw said...

Sounds like a fabulous blueberry weekend. This looks like a lovely cake.

adele said...

Cakelaw - Thank you!

Bobbie Sue said...

Adele--This is a fabulous article. The changes to the Buckle sound fab, and I can't wait to try them. In the haste of the weekend, I forgot to tell you the change I made to the recipe. I substitute brown sugar in the topping and in the cake will often use half brown sugar and half white sugar. Tastes soooooo good with the blueberries. Bobbie Sue

adele said...

Bobbie Sue - I'm glad you enjoyed it! I did wonder why the topping on the cake came out differently - brown sugar would explain that. :)