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If only fresh blueberries would have some chutzpah

Updated: 
August 8, 2017 - 12:05am

Summer after summer, I have been trying to bond with fresh blueberries but it has not come to fruition.

This is not for a lack of trying. I have traveled miles to find different varieties of blueberries (wild, ‘Spartan,’ ‘Bluecrop,’ ‘Chandler’), sampled ones from farm stands and those that come with carbon footprints, analyzed the size and popped in small, medium-sized and big ones. But I still don’t really “get” them. When ripe, I find them to be squishy, not juicy; and flavorless, not sweet or tart.

Just to be clear, it’s not like I hate them but I don’t love them either. It’s more like I don’t understand their mere existence. In a summer fruit salad, amid the melons, strawberries, grapes and bananas, I won’t pick them out and toss them, but if they were MIA, I certainly would not miss them. And in a parfait, if the granola is nutty and crunchy and the tangy yogurt creamy, the blueberries get outplayed in taste and texture. So why add them at all?

I know, I know, blueberries are considered the king of antioxidants, packed with vitamins C & K, low in calories and known to lower blood pressure. Much as I am mindful of what I eat, I like fruits that are assertive and have some brass, shall we say, and that’s where blueberries let me down.

They are like the letter “x.” You see, if ‘x’ were excluded from the English alphabet, I would not miss it. At the end of a typical workday if I were to count the number of words beginning with “x” that I read or uttered, it would be somewhere between none and one. I seldom have the need to mention X-ray or xylophone, and I don’t address the printer by its brand name.

Likewise, blueberries to me are just there, sucking up oxygen. When I dissect their taste and texture — they are just blah. Their sweetness does not stand out and so it would help if they were somewhat tart. But nope, they lack that, too. There’s nothing in their texture either. By the time you take the first chew, you are done with the fruit and so you move on to the next berry and the next and the next until you realize you have given your mouth a workout for nothing except to have stained teeth and a purplish tongue. I’m not even going get into fruity aromas because they have none.

Even though I would like them to have more chutzpah as fresh fruits, I would give plenty of fist bumps to baked goods with blueberries. The berries have a wonderful temperament toward high heat, softening well when baked but yet hanging on to their shape. Also, cakes, bars, breads and muffins look visually stunning studded with blue polka dots.

When it comes to adding blueberries to a cake or bread batter, keep some basic tips in mind: Freeze the fresh berries before adding them to the batter to avoid staining the sugar-egg-butter-flour mixture to an unappealing blue. Also, it pays to toss the berries with flour before adding them to the batter so that they won’t sink to the bottom of the muffin or cake.

Speaking of freezing, don’t wash the berries before freezing them because when they are wet, they will stick together and get icy.

In pies, the blueberry filling needs some TLC especially when the berries are ripe. Thickeners such as cornstarch and flour could mute the fresh fruit flavor, and simmering the berries to reduce the excess liquid could mean once again muffling the fresh flavor. One way to get the filling to have a jam-like consistency is to use commercial pectin or add grated apple, which contains a lot of natural pectin.

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TRAX’S BLUEBERRY WINE SLUSHIE

PG tested

When the blue­ber­ries are blended with white and blue wines and ice, you have grown-up slushies that look like they are ready to go party hop­ping.

2 cups frozen blueberries, plus more for garnish

12 ounces sauvignon blanc

6 ounces Arrowhead Blueberry Blues wine

1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)

Ice as needed

Puree blueberries, both wines and sugar in a blender until slushified.

Add ice if necessary to thicken.

Divide among 6 glasses. Garnish with blueberries.

Serve immediately or transfer to a container and freeze.

Serves 6.

— Adapted from Trax Farms recipe

BLUEBERRY-PECAN BREAD

PG tested

Author Bob Vivant said he tweaked the original recipe he found in his mother’s recipe box by replacing all-purpose flour with white whole wheat (I stuck with the all-purpose), the vegetable shortening with butter, and sour cream with yogurt. When the butter, yogurt, milk and eggs are whisked together, the mixture will look curdled. Don’t freak out because the end result is simply delicious.

1 1/2 cups pecans, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped, divided

1 1/2 cups blueberries

3 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

3/4 cup milk

2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Coat the inside of a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Evenly sprinkle 1/2 cup pecans over the bottom of the pan.

Gently toss together blueberries with 1/4 cup flour.

In a large bowl, combine remaining flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together melted butter, yogurt, milk and eggs.

Add yogurt mixture to flour mixture. Stir until just combined; don’t overmix.

Add blueberries and remaining pecans. Spread batter into prepared pan.

Bake for about 70 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Let pan cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

Remove warm bread from the pan and allow to cool completely before slicing.

Makes 1 loaf.

— Bob Vivant from Food52.com

BLUEBERRY-BUTTERMILK PIE BARS

PG tested

In her cookbook, “Dorie’s Cookies,” Dorie Greenspan says that she came up with this recipe when she could not get the buttermilk pie she had at a Nashville restaurant out of her head. And ever since I tested these bars, I cannot get them out of my head either. The bars are best the day they are made.

For the crust

3/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornmeal (not coarse)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

For the topping

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 1/2 cups buttermilk, divided

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch of fine sea salt

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 cup fresh blueberries

For the crust, have an 8-inch square baking pan at hand.

Put flour, sugar, cornmeal, cornstarch and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Drop in the chunks of butter and work in long pulses until you have a moist dough that forms curds.

Turn dough out into the pan and press it evenly, using your fingertips.

Place pan in refrigerator while oven preheats to 350 degrees (dough needs a short chill before baking).

Bake crust for 23 to 25 minutes, until it’s golden brown. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the crust to cool completely.

For the topping, spoon cornstarch into a small bowl and add 1/4 cup of buttermilk. Stir until cornstarch dissolves to form a slurry.

Whisk eggs in a medium bowl until foamy.

Add sugar and immediately start whisking vigorously (you must beat sugar and eggs together quickly, or the sugar will “burn” the yolks and cause a film to form).

Whisk in salt and vanilla, then whisk in the slurry.

Stir in the remainder of the buttermilk, followed by the melted butter.

Scatter blueberries over the crust and then pour on the topping. The blueberries will shift, so try to even them out by poking them with your fingers or a spoon.

Bake bars for 42 to 45 minutes, until the topping is puffed all the way to the center, brown around the edges and firm everywhere.

Transfer pan to a rack and cool for 20 minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edges, place a piece of parchment paper over the pan and unmold the bar onto a rack. Remove the pan and invert the bar onto another rack to cool to room temperature; chill if you’d like.

Just before serving, slide the bar onto a cutting board and, using a long, thin knife, cut into 2-inch squares.

Makes 16 squares.

— “Dorie’s Cookies” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; October 2016)

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