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Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Blueberries are the ultimate convenience food

For several years, two charming brothers from the neighborhood, Alex and Brandon, would show up on our doorstep and make their summer pitch.
"We've been to every country, from Peru to Bolivia, only to find that the choicest blueberries were located in our very own back yard. And you can buy these delicious berries at only a $1.50 a bag. Plus, you get this handy yellow-and-blue-makes-green re-sealable pouch. And if you buy two, you'll get one bag free."
Aside from the fact that I was a soft touch, they truly were delicious berries. Which is how it always seems to go for local blueberries. Talk about consistent.
While the more finicky berries of the Northwest seem to take us on a roller-coaster ride each summer ("Will the caneberries bounce back from last winter's freeze? Is all this rain affecting the strawberries?"), the blueberry seems to come with a fret-free guarantee.
From growing to cooking, it seems that blueberries were custom-designed for today's typically hectic lifestyles. Compared to other berry varieties, there's a lot less work involved. For one thing, blueberry bushes last longer than the average Hollywood marriage -- forty to fifty years to be precise. Whereas, with strawberries, every three to five years you have to dig them up and plant new ones.
And granted, there's the winter pruning to contend with, and summers are consumed with harvest. But for the most part, it's pretty much a low-maintenance crop.
And then there's the ease of preparation. Talk about a convenience food: no pit, no peel, no puttering. Even freezing is a snap.
Which makes it the perfect fruit for people who have to put off the making of their preserves until the fall or winter. Just pack the berries into freezer bags and pop them into the freezer.
When selecting blueberries, look for plump, richly-colored berries of fairly uniform size. The silvery "bloom" on the skin is a natural protective waxy coating.
Lemon-blueberry sour cream coffeecake
1 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups sour cream
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
Blueberry nut topping (recipe follows)
Cream together the butter, lemon peel, sugar and vanilla, beating until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, sour cream and lemon juice, stirring to combine, then sift in the flour, salt and baking powder, folding into the batter just until incorporated.
Pour 1/3 of the batter into a buttered 9-inch springform pan (pan with removable bottom and sides). Sprinkle with 1/2 of the topping mix. Fill with remaining 2/3 of the batter mixture and sprinkle with the remaining blueberry-nut topping mixture, pressing into the batter a bit. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 55 to 60 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean and dry.
Yields 8 servings.
Blueberry nut topping: Combine 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon and 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts.
These moist muffins are full of plump, juicy blueberries with a background flavor of banana. It's important not to stir the batter too much after you add the flour or they will be rubbery.
Blueberry banana muffins
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed banana (2 to 3 average, ripe, bananas)
1/2 cup milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the bananas and milk.
In another mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and cinnamon.
Add the margarine mixture to the dry ingredients and mix only until the batter is moist.
Carefully stir in the whole blueberries. If you are using frozen blueberries, add them to your recipe while they are still frozen or they will turn your batter purple. Spoon the batter into greased muffin cups or use paper muffin-cup liners, filling the cups to the top. Bake in 375 degrees F oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until muffins are golden brown.
Let cool for 5 minutes in the muffin pan, then transfer to a cooling rack. The muffins can be stored in a tightly sealed plastic container or in plastic bags.
Yields 1 dozen muffins.
Recipe adapted from "Berries," by Sharon Kramis.
Fresh blueberry cobbler with fruit variations
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 cups fresh blueberries
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons shortening
1/2 cup milk
Blend 1/2 cup sugar and the cornstarch in medium saucepan. Stir in blueberries and lemon juice. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute. Pour into ungreased 2-quart casserole. Keep fruit mixture hot in oven while preparing biscuit topping.
Measure flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, the baking powder and salt into bowl.
Add shortening and milk. Cut through shortening 6 times; mix until dough forms a ball. Drop dough by 6 spoonfuls onto hot fruit.
Bake in 400 degree oven until biscuit topping is golden brown. Serve warm and, if desired, with cream. Yields 6 servings.
Variations
Fresh cherry cobbler: Substitute 4 cups pitted fresh (or frozen and thawed) red tart cherries for the blueberries; increase sugar in fruit mixture to 11/4 cups, cornstarch to 3 tablespoons and substitute 1/4 teaspoon almond extract for the lemon juice.
Fresh peach cobbler: Substitute 4 cups sliced fresh peaches (peeled) for the blueberries and add 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon to the sugar-cornstarch mixture.
Fresh plum cobbler: Substitute 4 cups unpeeled sliced fresh plums for the blueberries; increase sugar in fruit mixture to 3/4 cup, cornstarch to 3 tablespoons and add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon to the sugar-cornstarch mixture.
From: "Betty Crocker's Cookbook," by the editors of General Mills.
This recipe was developed by Christine Weber Hale for Sunset Magazine.
She was looking for a low-sugar method that was easier and less time-consuming (stir it every 20 minutes or so) to make than a food dehydrator method the magazine had come up with in their July 1986 issue.
In this method, the flavor is quite fresh, not too sweet, and produces a relatively small amount (which many people who are making it for the freezer prefer). And best of all, she reports, it only takes one pan.
Low-sugar baked berry freezer jam
8 cups raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries, or hulled strawberries
1 1/4 cups sugar (about)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Rinse berries, drain dry, and put in a 10-by-15-inch baking pan. If using strawberries, slice them. Mix fruit, sugar to taste, and lemon juice. Bake, uncovered, in a 375 degree oven until berries release juice, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, put a ceramic saucer in the freezer.
Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Every 20 minutes or so, gently stir berries to moisten well with juices. Bake until a little berry liquid, spooned onto the chilled saucer, doesn't immediately flow together when you pull the tip of a spoon or your fingertip through it (as you lift your finger, the liquid holds on, forming a small droplet), about 1 hour for blueberries, 1 to 1-1/2 hours for the other berries.
Let jam cool; if necessary, reheat and adjust consistency (see following directions).
Spoon into a bowl or small jars. Serve or cover airtight and chill up to 2 weeks; freeze to store longer, up to 12 months. Makes about 11/2 cups raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, or strawberry jam, or about 21/2 cups blueberry jam.
To adjust jam consistency: let jam cool completely in baking pan. If too runny, return to oven; stir and test every 20 minutes until jam reaches desired thickness. If jam is too thick, warm it in the oven, then stir in water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it is the desired consistency.
"Sunset Magazine," July 1994.
Spiced blueberry marmalade
1 orange
1 lemon
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 cups fresh blueberries, washed and de-stemmed
3 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of freshly grated nutmeg
Wash 5 half-pint jars. Keep hot until needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs.
Cut a thin slice from each end of the orange and lemon and discard.
Score through the peel in 4 places and gently remove all of the peel.
Lay each piece flat and cut away half of the white pith. Cut peel into very fine shreds, 1/8-inch by 11/2 inches. Place the zest in a skillet with 11/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook on high heat for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove the pulp of the orange and lemon from the membranes and add to peel. Squeeze membranes to extract any juice and add the orange and lemon juice. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes more. Add the blueberries, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to the citrus mixture. Bring the marmalade to a boil and continue cooking, uncovered, for 20 minutes. The blueberries will pop open and the mixture will begin to thicken slightly and appear glossy.
Turn off the heat and remove a small amount of marmalade to a saucer and place in the freezer for 5 minutes. If the mixture wrinkles as a whole (not just a skin on top) when pushed to one side with a finger, it is ready. This jam thickens a great deal as it cools, so avoid overcooking.
Ladle the hot jam into 1 hot jar at a time, leaving 1/4-inch head space.
Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Process in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes (15 minutes at 1,001 to 6,000 feet; 20 minutes above 6,000 feet).
Yields about 5 half-pint jars.
Recipe adapted from "Preserving The Taste," by Edon Waycott.
Try this chutney with roast turkey, duck, or goose. It is also good with meats and curries.
Mixed with mayonnaise or plain yogurt, it makes a piquant dressing for salads made with meat, poultry, and/or fruits.
Blueberry-port chutney
1 quart blueberries
1 medium onion, finely chopped (your food processor makes fast work of this)
1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
1/4 cup ruby port
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seed
1 tablespoon grated crystalized ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch each of salt and ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
Wash 4 half-pint jars. Keep hot until needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs.
Wash, drain, stem, and sort fresh blueberries, and place in a 4-quart saucepan. Add the onion, vinegar, port, raisins, brown sugar, mustard, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and red pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, or until chutney is thick. Ladle the hot chutney into 1 hot jar at a time, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
Yields 4 half-pint jars.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Ore., food writer, artist, and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

Varieties
In case you were wondering, blueberries are the cultivated cousin of the wild huckleberry. They range in color from purplish-blue to blue-black.
A growing number of mature, producing plants and growers entering the market has boosted the Northwest blueberry harvest, helping Oregon to become the 4th largest producer. More than 50 varieties of blueberries are grown in the Northwest, offering blueberry lovers a taste for every preference.
Among the first to appear are such varieties as Earliblue and Bluetta, which are medium-sized, firm berries with a rich color and good, sweet flavor. Also early, the Spartan variety is a large berry with a brilliant light blue color. Bluecrop, Berkeley and Elliot are mid- to late-season varieties, and range in color from a bright, light blue to a medium blue.
Story tags » CookingLocal Food

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