Alan Tangren: Summertime blues
Dear Alan: What’s the best time of year to shop for blueberries?
Alan: Although you can find blueberries at the supermarket most of the year, our local season usually runs from the first part of June through the end of July. Berries shipped from Washington and Oregon extend the season through August.
Our part of the foothills has an ideal climate for growing blueberries, and in fact there are a number of growers around Grass Valley and Placerville, including some that let you pick your own.
Wild blueberries are native to eastern North America, growing in bogs and wetlands from Canada down to Virginia and west to Iowa. They are close plant relatives to cranberries.
Blueberries have gotten a lot of attention lately because they are a good source of healthy antioxidants. But I just like them for their rich, sweet-tart flavor
Blueberries are delicious eaten out of hand as a snack, or with hot or cold cereal, and they are essential for blueberry pancakes or muffins. Blueberry pie is one of the treats of early summer.
And because their season overlaps that of other summer fruits, they can add an extra dimension to dishes with peaches and nectarines, such as cobblers, crisps and pies.
Lemon and lime helps to enhance the flavor of blueberries cooked on their own; I often add lemon zest and juice when I bake a blueberry pie.
At the farm or at the market, search for firm blueberries with smooth skin that still has the waxy “bloom.” If the berries are packaged in a plastic clamshell, be sure to turn it over so you can inspect both top and bottom layers.
Avoid berries that are shriveled or hard. Most blueberries don’t have much aroma, but smell them before you buy to detect any off-odors of mold or spoilage.
Blueberries are seldom identified by variety, but if you are at the farm or a growers market be sure and ask the farmer for his or her favorite variety if they offer a choice.
Blueberries are less perishable and easier to store than other berries. They can be refrigerated loosely covered in a shallow bowl, or in their clamshell for up to a week in the refrigerator. To freeze, spread them out on a baking pan and transfer to zip-lock bags for storage.
Fresh blueberries are easy to prepare for use. Just pull off any tiny stems that may still be attached and give the berries a quick rinse in cold water.
To make a quick sauce for ice cream or custard pudding, place them in a saucepan and add just enough water to barely cover. Add sugar and a little lemon juice to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook until the berries are tender.
To make your own blueberry syrup, add a little more sugar and cook the berries until they are very soft. Put through a fine strainer or food mill and refrigerate until serving.
Makes a 9-inch pie
Pastry for a double crust pie
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
Juice and grated zest of ½ lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Prepare and roll out two pastry discs, about 12-inches across. Line a 9-inch pie plate with one of the pastry discs and refrigerate the lined pie plate and the other pastry disc while preparing the filling.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit in time to bake the pie.
Stir together the sugar and flour in a large bowl. Add the blueberries and the lemon juice and zest and stir and toss to coat the berries. (Let stand for 45 minutes if using frozen berries.)
Add berries to the pastry lined pie plate and trim the edges of the pastry even with the edge. Place the other pastry disc on top and trim to leave a 1/2 inch overhang. Fold the top pasty edge under the bottom and press to seal. Use your thumb and forefinger to flute the edge.
Cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to escape and bake in the lower level of the oven. Bake a total of 50 minutes, or until filling is bubbly and pastry is brown. Frozen fruit may take 10 minutes longer.
Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill St. in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com. Contact him at email@example.com.
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