Sunday, August 29, 2010

Foraging for Blueberries

One of the easiest ways to get into pure foods is berry picking.  Blueberries are still a natural woodland crop in the northeast and beyond and are easy for even young children to spot.  Some people are a bit secretive about favorite blueberry bush tracts but ask around and eventually someone will clue you in.   One of my neighbors lets me forage in the back portion of her property where densely growing shrubbery yields a ready harvest.  

Bring small and large rinsed-out yogurt containers with covers, some water and snacks in a light backpack.  Give the small yogurt containers to children to fill.  (They will see progress quickly and if it tips the loss is minimal.)  Collect the crop in the large containers with covers or zip lock bags.

Enjoy blueberries in crisps, muffins and fresh fruit salads.  Freeze berries on cookie sheets (to prevent clumping) and then place frozen berries in freezer bags for mid-winter retrieval.  Perhaps Christmas morning blueberry muffins or oatmeal with blueberries instead of raisins?

Here are a few blueberry treats to eat now or freeze.  Granola Blueberry Crisp packs a blueberry pie taste without a heavy crust.  The ad hoc granola topping is hearty and spiked with almonds and oats so you won’t miss a thing.  My Blueberry Muffin recipe is inspired by the ones made at Boston department store Jordan Marsh until the early 1990’s.  I add lemon zest and cinnamon to the original and use buttermilk instead of regular milk for the liquid.  They are loaded with berries and bake up well in mini, regular or large muffin cups.  They also freeze beautifully. 

Granola Blueberry Crisp
Serves 2-3, recipe may be doubled

2 cups rinsed blueberries
Squeeze of lemon
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup quick cooking tapioca
Cooking spray oil

Granola Topping
1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced into 4-5 pieces

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚F.  Spray a shallow ovenproof casserole or pie plate with spray oil.  
  2. Lightly mix the blueberries with lemon juice, sugar and tapioca in the casserole.  Let sit while you prepare the topping and the tapioca softens.
  3. To prepare the topping, mix all dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  
  4. Add butter and use your fingers to combine and coat the dry ingredients with the butter.   The warmth of your (very clean) hands will warm the butter and speed up combining the ingredients without breaking down the oats and almonds.  
  5. Cover the blueberries with the granola topping.  
  6. Bake at 425˚F for about 25-30 minutes until the blueberries are bubbling and the topping is crisp.  
  7. Cool a few minutes before serving to allow the fruit to set.  Vanilla ice cream is nice with the crisp but give plain yogurt a try and you may never go back.  We like the type with cream on top for this dessert.  Less decadent that you’d think at about 130 calories per 8-oz container of yogurt.  You’ll need about 1/2 a container.  
  8. To freeze, cool completely, cover top with tin foil and place crisp in a large zip lock bag. (Cover top and bottom with a double wrap of tin foil if you cannot fit it into a freezer bag.)  Freeze up to 6 weeks.  To re-heat, uncover crisp and place frozen crisp in a preheated 325˚F oven for 30-40 minutes until heated through.  If topping becomes too crisp while re-heating, cover loosely with foil. 
Blueberry Lemon Muffins
Makes 18 regular muffins, 10 jumbo or 2 1/2 dozen mini-muffins.
Mashing a portion of the berries into the batter and a light coating of sugar on top of each muffin before baking makes these nearly identical to the originals from Jordan Marsh.  I like my berries un-mashed and find the muffins sweet enough without the sugar topping but if you like a crunchy texture on top, give it a try.  Dusting the berries with flour keeps them buoyant in the batter so you will have berries in most bites instead of all at the bottom of muffins. 

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick) at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 cups white whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk plus juice of 1/2 lemon)
2 cups fresh blueberries tossed with 1 tablespoon flour

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.  
  2. Prepare muffin cups by lining with paper liners and spraying lightly with cooking oil spray.  
  3. Cream butter with sugar in a large bowl.  With an electric mixer, beat at medium 2 minutes until light and fluffy.  
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating continuously.  
  5. In a smaller bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, lemon zest and salt.  
  6. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, alternating with buttermilk.  
  7. Fold in flour-dusted blueberries and scoop batter into prepared muffin cups.  
  8. Bake at 400˚F for 30 minutes for regular muffins, 35-40 minutes for large muffins and 15-18 minutes for minis.  
  9. Cool in tins for 10-15 minutes before removing and serving.  Muffins freeze well and keep for 2 months.

Fruit Salad
Don’t forget to add blueberries to fruit salads.  They make a colorful counterpart to almost any combination.  One of my favorites is with fresh apricots and bananas.  A sprinkling of fresh lemon zest is a wonderful secret ingredient in fresh fruit salads.  Use a microplaner/grater if you do not own a zester. 

Foraging Awareness

On the trail, be alert for other species that like berries.  Though they are usually out earlier than you, black bears are calorie loading at summer’s end in preparation for their winter sleep.   Making noise is not generally recommended in the woods if you want to see wildlife, but voices will often warn off this bear.  If you do encounter one, remember that they live in the wild and are not cuddly. They are as concerned for their cubs as you are for your children.  Make sure you are not in a line of sight between a mother and its cubs by steering yourself away.