Right in the middle of summer, when temperatures soar, the earth offers up cool, brightly colored treasures, a consolation gift for enduring the sweltering heat.
Each month of summer produces a berry, each with its own taste, color and slew of healing properties – beginning with strawberries, then raspberries and, right about now, blueberries and huckleberries, followed by blackberries.
For a few short weeks, local blueberries are available. It’s true they’re available in grocery stores year round – hailing from California and Central and South America – and don’t get me wrong: I’ll take a blueberry any time of year. But for a few glorious weeks in summer, blueberries growing in our neck of the woods are worth seeking out.
Liz and Mike Hively of Wild Rose Berries, 6 miles west of Highway 395 just past Wild Rose Prairie, have been growing organic berries for more than 30 years. In 2003, they tried their hand at blueberries.
“It took two years to get the soil ready and, of course, we had to fence the entire area thanks to the deer population,” Liz Hively said. “We started planting a variety of berries for our zone: Patriot, Nelson, Blueray, Northland, Bluecrop, Spartan and Elliott. We call them the high-bush berries.”
Then they tried something different. “We planted a second area around 2005 with low-bush varieties: North Country and North Sky,” she said.
At the time, they had no idea how the low bushes would do, for most blueberry bushes take up to five years to mature and start producing. “We had to be very patient as we learned the pruning process and how to keep the soil acidic using organic materials. Between the two areas, we have close to 600 bushes. That is small compared to the big commercial farms.”
Most of the conventional blueberries in grocery stores are the high-bush variety, hybridized to be bigger and sweeter and appeal more to American tastes. But it’s the smaller low-bush berries that are the ones to seek out.
“Our customers like the smaller berries better for baking and for the quick snack,” Liz Hively said. “They also cook up better in pancakes and muffins. People are always surprised to see them at the farmers market, as you would never see the smaller berries in grocery stores – they are far too labor intensive.”
Growing blueberries requires a lot of water and acidic soil. But they’re worth the effort. They’re full of healthy antioxidants.
In the kitchen, blueberries typically find their way into smoothies or oatmeal, pancakes or yogurt. We also love to bake them into muffins and scones, pies and cobblers.
To prevent the berries from bleeding when baking, toss them first with a little bit of flour.
When choosing blueberries, make sure they are firm with a lively, uniform hue and a whitish bloom – this is what protects the skin of the berry. Shake the container at bit to make sure the berries move freely; if they clump together, this may indicate that they are soft and damaged or moldy. They should be free from moisture since the presence of water will cause the berries to decay, and for this reason, it’s best not to wash them until right before serving.
Lately, I’ve been adding them to salads and hearty bowls, such as this Summer Glow Bowl. Blueberries are paired with shaved fennel, oranges, avocado, watercress, walnuts and local Black Nile Barley, then drizzled with a fresh Orange Bee Pollen Dressing.
For a healthy and refreshing summer treat, try a Blueberry Slushy. With a good blender, this two-ingredient recipe is a snap to make. Simply blend frozen blueberries with fresh orange juice, and you end up with an icy, delicious cup of goodness. Serve it with a spoon.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try pickling them. A friend introduced me to this Sunset Magazine recipe, where quick-pickled blueberries are served over grilled chicken with a bed of greens. It has become one of my all-time favorite blueberry recipes.
Mike Hively of Wild Rose Berries, a retired baker, shares one of his favorite blueberry recipes, too: Blueberry Cream Cheese Fingers. A rich, cream cheese-infused pie dough is mixed and rolled out, then cut into squares and rolled into “fingers” with blueberries in the middle, and baked until golden.
Fresh blueberries freeze exceptionally well. Make sure they are dry and seal them in airtight freezer bags. You can toss them frozen, right into baked goods.
If purchasing frozen blueberries, shake the bag gently to ensure that the berries move freely and are not clumped together, which could suggest that they have been thawed and refrozen.
Wild Rose Prairie’s Blueberries are available Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Spokane Farmers Market, located at 20 W. Fifth Ave. between Division and Browne streets.
2 cups frozen blueberries
1 1/4 cups fresh orange juice
Blend in a blender, scraping down sides as necessary. To get the blades going, it’s OK to add a spoonful more of water or orange juice, but in order to keep the consistency thick and icy, be careful not to add to much more. Pour into a large glass (or two small glasses) and serve with a spoon.
Yield: 1 to 2 servings
Summer Glow Bowl with Citrus Bee Pollen Dressing
For the bowl
1 1/2 cups black barley, or grain of your choice
2 cups blueberries
1 fennel bulb, shaved thinly
1 bunch watercress
1 orange, peeled and segmented, or sliced
1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced
1 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup walnuts
For the dressing
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/8 cup finely chopped red onion or shallot
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon bee pollen (optional)
Place barley in a medium pot with 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to low, cover and simmer 1 hour, until cooked al-dente. Drain and chill.
Prep all of the veggies, taking care to thinly slice the fennel bulb and red onion. (I often use a sharp vegetable peeler or mandolin.)
Divide barley among 4 bowls. Then divide the rest of the ingredients among the bowls.
Make the dressing by stirring all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Then divide the dressing among the bowls, drizzling over all of the other ingredients.
Grilled Chicken with Pickled Blueberries
From Sunset Magazine
For the pickled blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1/ 4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 star anise
2 quarter-size slices fresh ginger
1/2 cinnamon stick
3 cups blueberries
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
For the chicken
Zest of 2 lemons
2 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
6 small to medium bone-in chicken breast halves with skin (4 pounds total)
1 1/2 bunches watercress
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
For blueberries: Combine all ingredients except berries and shallot in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in berries and cook until all of them darken, about 2 minutes. Stir in shallot and let stand at room temperature about 2 hours.
For the chicken: Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine lemon zest, coriander, salt and pepper. Rub evenly over chicken. Let stand at room temperature about 1 hour. Trim ends from watercress (to leave long sprigs) and rinse. Wrap in a kitchen towel and chill to crisp.
Heat a grill to medium (400 to 450 degrees).
Rub chicken with oil, then grill it, turning once, until no longer pink in thickest part, 20 to 30 minutes.
Serve: Arrange chicken on a platter or plates with watercress. Pour blueberries into a bowl to spoon over chicken and greens.
Make ahead: Blueberries, up to 1 week, chilled.
Blueberry Cream Cheese Fingers
From “The Main Wild Blueberry Cookbook”
1 cup blueberries (or huckleberries)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 pound butter, warmed to room temperature
1/2 pound cream cheese, warmed to room temperature
1 egg yolk, beaten
Sprinkle berries with a little of the sugar, them dust lightly with flour. Roll berries to coat evenly. Cream together butter and cream cheese until smooth and well blended. Sift flour and sugar together. Add gradually to butter and cheese, mixing thoroughly. Chill dough in refrigerator 1 hour. Roll out like a pie crust and cut in 5-inch squares. Place 8 to 10 whole berries in center of each and roll into fingers, pinching ends together. Brush each “finger” with egg yolk and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
Yield: 15 to 20 fingers.
The Seasonal Kitchen is a monthly feature. Local chef Sylvia Fountaine writes about seasonal foods she’s making in her kitchen, sharing recipes and a passion for local foods. Fountaine is a caterer and former co-owner of Mizuna restaurant. She writes about home cooking on her blog, Feasting at Home, www.feastingathome.com.
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