Miriam's Garden: Blueberry days

Happy week after the Fourth everyone! How is it possible that it's the latter half of the second week of July?

The weather report continues to be tropical. We're still dodging storms and sweating when the sun peaks out. Marveling at the garden that grows boundlessly. Expanding, blooming, producing.

Happy. The frogs are happy, too. The tree frogs seem never to run out of things to croak about, except the other night when a friend visited from Colorado. We'd bragged on our clever, vocal frogs, but on that night there wasn't a peep. Something we said? Was their mating cycle over? They returned the next day, along with a new thunderstorm, noisy and joyous as ever.

In the garden, some of the prime spring veggies such as peas and lettuce are over, or nearly done-in. The onions are no longer slender little filaments. They're fat and round, with thick green tops that flop over. Does this happen when the cats play in the garden or does a brisk wind tip them? Do they fall over naturally? I've been carefully bending some onion tops myself, to keep the plant's energy concentrated in the bulbs.

It's about time to pick them. The red ones we'll dry in the barn and then store, but the others, the sweet onions, we'll just use throughout the summer. As long as they last, never long enough. The garlic is getting close to harvest time, as well. Just needs some drier days.

I pulled up most of the tender-green spring lettuce the other day. Chucked big piles of ruffled leaves on the compost. It was past its prime, starting to go to seed. I'll wait until later in the season to plant again. Basil seeds sprout in its place.

On the Fourth of July, spent peacefully at home, we enjoyed a dinner partly from the garden. The night before, entertaining guests, I went all beef and potatoes -- pan-fried fillet steaks with mushrooms, the first zucchini and summer squash with peas and sugar-snaps and homegrown potatoes with butter and garden onions.

To counterbalance that, our Fourth meal, on what would have been my Grandpa Rubin's 100-and-something birthday, our meal was lighter and greener. I was inspired by some great-looking garden chard and a recipe for Lemon Rice that was part of the food section's picnic package last week.

Because I didn't have all the ingredients necessary for Bob Batz Jr.'s authentic South Indian-style lemon rice, I tried my own version. Well, really a riff on Madhur Jaffrey's version from her book "World Vegetarian."

I didn't have all the ingredients she called for, either. I was missing the fresh curry leaves. I had dried curry leaves but they were old, brown and lacking aroma. She suggested basil as a substitute. That I have.

With the rice, recipe below, altered to use basil, we had wilted chard with garlic, onions and a zip of crushed red pepper. For dessert, there was Peak-of-the-Season Crisp with Brown Sugar Oats from "The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook," made with raspberries and blueberries. If I'd added ice cream, it would have been more in keeping with the holiday.

Our blueberries this year are spotty, but delicious. They're ripening under their (soggy) white row-cover tent, which keeps the birds away, because they love them, too. I pick about 1 cup every other day and each time I wish there were more and think that we should put in more bushes. If you haven't had a fresh-from-the-bush blueberry, it's almost a whole new experience. They're tarter with a richer, more intense flavor. Oftentimes commercially grown blueberries seem too sweet.

Not to knock store-bought blues, because I certainly stock up during the season. Blueberries are out in force in both the supermarket and farmers markets. If you don't grow your own, get to a market or even better, to a u-pick farm.

To store blueberries, the best way is to freeze them. You don't need to thaw them to use in any recipes, especially in baking.

Here's how: Don't wash the berries first or they'll clump when frozen. Simply sort them, pull off any tiny stems and discard the squashed berries. Tip them into zip-top freezer bags, write on the bags the date and the cup amount, and pack flat in your freezer. You'll thank me in winter. Then you can make the goodies below again.

Peak-of-the-Season Crisp with Brown Sugar Oats

  • PG tested
  • This combo of blueberries with raspberries contributed from my neighbor Wendy made a terrific dessert. The next time I prepare it, which will be soon, I'll use 1/4 cup sugar. The authors also suggest making it with any of the following fruit mixtures: "plum and gooseberry, peach and blueberry, nectarine and black pepper, apple-cranberry-pear-date, apple and huckleberry, and so on." Yeah, that'll work.

For the topping

  • 2/3 cup rolled oats

  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar)

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • Pinch salt

  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice

For the fruit mixture

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (I used 1/3 cup sugar, and will use less next time)

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 2 cups raspberries

  • 2 cups blueberries

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set out a 9-inch pie plate. (I used a 8-by-8-inch glass baking dish.)

  • For topping: In medium bowl, mix oats, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt. Add butter and blend with pastry blender or fingers until crumbly.

  • For fruit: In another medium bowl, mix sugar and flour. Add berries and toss gently to coat using rubber spatula. Pour into chosen dish. Cover berries with topping. Place pan on baking sheet to catch any juices. Bake 40 to 45 minutes (mine took 30 minutes) until topping is golden brown and juices are bubbling, rotating pan halfway through baking time.

  • Cool briefly on wire rack. Serve warm.

  • Makes 5 or 6 servings.

  • -- Adapted from "The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: Sweetness in Seattle: 125 of our Favorite Recipes" by Tom Douglas and Shelley Lance (Morrow, 2012, $35)

Blueberry Buttermilk Pie

  • PG tested
  • This is based on a recipe from Carol Prager's wonderful book "365 Great Cakes & Pies." Her recipe was for a tart with a cornmeal crust, but I didn't have the patience. I crafted this pie instead.

  • Pie dough for a single-crust pie

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 3 egg yolks

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Pinch ground allspice

  • Pinch salt

  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk

  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries

  • Softly whipped, lightly sweetened heavy cream for topping and more blueberries for decoration

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Fit pie dough into 9-inch pie plate. Flute edge. Prick all over with fork. Line with sheet of foil and fill with pie beans or weights. Bake 10 minutes, until crust edge is white. Remove foil and beans and bake 5 to 8 minutes more, pressing crust down with spoon if it puffs or slips, until lightly browned in spots. Cool on wire rack.

  • Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

  • In large bowl, whisk sugar, flour, egg yolks, melted butter, lemon zest, vanilla, allspice and salt. Whisk in buttermilk. Arrange blueberries in crust. Pour filling over and place pie plate on baking sheet.

  • Bake 35 to 45 minutes, until filling is set and firm in center. Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire rack. Top with whipped cream and additional blueberries to serve. Refrigerate any leftovers.

  • Makes 6 to 8 servings.

  • -- Miriam Rubin

Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins

  • PG tested
  • These muffins are more like cupcakes, light as a cloud and gently sweet. They're also a bit picky to make but the rewards are, oh heck, rewarding. One is calling to me from the kitchen right now. I froze the rest and gave a bag of 3 to the UPS driver. That's 3 I know I won't eat. I bet they're even good in the frozen state.The authors write: "When making the muffin batter, whip the butter and sugar until very light and carefully add the dry and wet ingredients until just mixed. The resulting muffins will have a delicate cake-like-texture, punctuated with juicy purple berries."

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature (I used reduced-calorie sour cream)

  • 1/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 1 1/4 cups blueberries

  • Raw, granulated or crystal sugar for sprinkling

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.

  • In medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and baking soda. Reserve 1/4 cup for coating blueberries later. In small bowl, mix sour cream, buttermilk, vanilla and salt.

  • In bowl of electric mixer, with paddle, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and well-whipped, about 3 minutes, scraping bowl and beaters half-way thorough. Add eggs, one at a time, at medium speed, incorporating each before next addition.

  • Alternately add dry and wet ingredients in 3 additions, ending with dry. Mix only until blended. Mix blueberries with reserved flour mixture in small bowl until coated. By hand, gently fold in berry mixture using rubber spatula.

  • Scoop batter into muffin cups, using 3-ounce scoop or spoon (a generous 1/3 cup batter) per muffin. Lightly sprinkle top of each with about 1/2 teaspoon raw sugar.

  • Bake until muffins are golden, slightly domed and baked through, 23 to 25 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking. A wooden skewer inserted into muffin should come out with a few crumbs clinging, but no batter. Remove pan from oven to wire rack and let stand about 10 minutes before unmolding.

  • Makes 12 muffins.

  • -- Adapted from "The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: Sweetness in Seattle: 125 of our Favorite Recipes" by Tom Douglas and Shelley Lance (Morrow, 2012, $35)

Blueberry-Mint Vinegar

  • PG tested

  • From my friend Nancy Hanst, a contributor to these pages who has a keen eye for interesting recipes. I asked her if she had some blueberries notions to share and she offered this clever one. She also provided the Five-Minute Blueberry Sauce recipe. She suggests this vinegar can be used as a dressing for arugula or spinach salad. "Or as a marinade, glaze or reduction for pork, ham or duck. The beautiful plum color makes it an ideal gift item. Add fresh blueberries for a decorative effect."

  • 1 cup white wine vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon honey

  • 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen blueberries

  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

  • Mix vinegar and honey in small nonreactive saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Place blueberries and mint in medium glass bowl and pour vinegar mixture over. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 2 days. Pass through fine-mesh strainer but don't push down on blueberries. Discard berries. Cover tightly and refrigerate.

  • This is best used within a month.

  • Makes about 1 cup.

  • -- Adapted from "Very Blueberry" by Jennifer Trainer Thompson (Celestial Arts, 2005, $5.95)

Five-Minute Blueberry Sauce

  • PG tested

  • Yup, 5 minutes. Couldn't be simpler or more luscious. Recipe via Nancy Hanst.

  • Serve on ice cream or pancakes or pound cake.

  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter

  • 2 cups blueberries

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • Melt butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add blueberries and sugar. Cook, stirring, until berries release juices, about 2 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

  • Makes about 1 heaping cup.

  • -- Martha Stewart Living

Lemon Rice

  • PG tested

  • 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed in several changes of water

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil

  • 1 teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds (I used yellow mustard seeds)

  • 6 or 7 fresh curry leaves (I didn't have these)

  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

  • 1 to 3 teaspoons or more fresh lemon juice (taste after adding first 2 teaspoons, I used about 2 tablespoons, but I didn't have curry leaves)

  • 1/2 cup 1/2-inch-thick pieces shredded basil leaves or holy basil or lemon basil (I used all three, instead of curry leaves)

  • Put rice, salt and 2 cups water in heavy saucepan. Bring to boil; reduce heat to very low, cover tightly and simmer for 20 minutes, or until all water has evaporated and rice is tender. Do not stir or peek. Really.

  • Put oil in small, heavy skillet and set over medium-high heat. When hot, put in mustard seeds. As soon as they begin to pop, a matter of seconds, put in curry leaves (if using). Stir once then empty contents of skillet into rice. Add lemon zest and juice to rice; mix gently with fork or slotted spoon. Mix again, taste for seasoning and serve hot.

  • Makes 3 to 4 servings.

  • -- Adapted from "Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian: More Than 650 Meatless Recipes From Around the Globe" by Madhur Jaffrey (Clarkson Potter, 1999, $27)

Miriam Rubin: mmmrubin@gmail.com and on Twitter @mmmrubin.


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