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Posts Tagged ‘blueberries’

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Dear Bakers,

First, mad props to you. Honest. Life is hard; you make us treats. Without you*, how could we forget about the workaday world of Cadillac SUV drivers who don’t signal, about 16-page apartment leases, about presidential candidates who strut and fret their hour upon the stage? A cinnamon croissant roll takes five minutes to eat, but what a blissful five minutes. How unburdened an experience. You are gods and archangels.

Thank you for the variety on your menu, thank you for offering both plain and fancified, thank you for blueberries in high summer and spiced pumpkin in the fall. Thank you for little saucers of broken-up scones to try while we wait for service. (Full disclosure: Sometimes I pop one to soothe a hungry stomach and then go. But you know I spend liberally the rest of the week. We’re cool.)

Thank you, so many of you, for making pie crusts with lard, or butter, or a combo of the two. Thank you, others of you, for eschewing shortening entirely for the glory of butter. You know your cookies will be flatter, but firmly avow that flavor must never fall to the ax of showboating.

But I must take exception to those of you who bake with excessive amounts of sugar. Of course America has a sweet tooth. We just don’t need as much sugar as you’re adding. Many of your cakes and cupcakes are too darn sweet, and lots of bakers don’t stop there: even a corn muffin these days can make a girl’s mouth pucker. My argument:

  1. If the first and last ingredient we taste is sugar, the product is dull.
  2. If the first and last ingredient we taste is sugar, the rest of the ingredients don’t get their say.
  3. Ibid., the structure will be gritty.

I love chocolate brownies, for example. But when did we make sugar more important than the quality of the chocolate, the richness of the butter, and the fudginess or cakiness of the square itself? I ate a brownie on Sunday that was gorgeous to look at. But it was so packed with sugar that I crunched my way through it.** The chocolate, fat, and texture were very much an afterthought.

Last point:

4. If one ingredient isn’t allowed to be a diva, we can appreciate the subtlety and balance of the other ingredients.

Like seals being tossed fish time and again, pushing sugar into the spotlight of baked goods narrows our thinking, dulls our senses, and deprives us of a fuller experience. Let us taste the almond extract in your cherry scones; we’ll be excited to learn they’re such a winning pair (cousins, almonds and cherries, you know). Let us search for a hint of orange peel, or come to adore exotic cardamom on first taste. We love to learn. Let us get excited by the nuances of your work.

The brownie above, now. Good example. Much less sugar, in the European tradition. More excellent-quality chocolate, cream, and butter. It was dense, sticky—a deep and powerful experience. I’ll drive a half an hour north for this thing, and I cannot imagine I’m alone.

Being active observers of flavors and textures is a positive; looking for them with eagerness and learning from them is a blessing. Conscious, discerning eating can’t help but inform conscious, discerning thinking outside the bakery, and goodness knows we can all use a little more of that.

Two thumbs up, and best regards,

~M (and my dentist)

*And maybe Lin-Manuel Miranda.
**Of course I ate the whole thing. It wasn’t a good brownie, but it was a brownie.

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Quick little post today, recuperating as I am from running crew every night this past week, but wanted to tell you all about the blueberries I found on Saturday at the farmers market a few blocks away. They were on the edge of a folding table manned by two teenagers. I asked the kids if all of the produce they were selling was local, and they said everything was but the fruit. Then I saw this sign and asked again to double check. New Jersey grows a lot of blueberries, it’s high season, and something about that hand-scrawled sign made me wonder. Things that make you go hmmm.*

‘I think they’re from south Jersey,’ the girl said. Well, hot diggity—that’s where most of our blueberries are grown. And look at that cheapie price for a pint!

I took them home, washed and stemmed half of them, and ate them for lunch with low-fat Stonyfield vanilla yogurt stirred in. They’re tiny and spicy and remind me of the low-bush blueberries that hail from New England, but the oracle of Google tells me they’re high-bush, the kind New Jersey grows.

That’s it. They were great. 🙂 Happy week!

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I’m a dork; I accidentally took a video of this sign instead of a photo. So I cheated and shot a picture of it right on my PC screen. Nice arrow, huh?

*Apologies to those too young to remember the 1991 hit by C+C Music Factory. You aren’t really missing anything.

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When I was a kid, the jobs that required unusual patience were given to me, for better or worse. My sister Amanda will remember that I took over the Easter bread dough every year at the very end of the process, when it needed cup after cup of flour kneaded into it until the dough was smooth and elastic. It’s tempting to add it in a heap and get on with your life, but then you end up with a mucky, sticky, dusty mess. It has to be done slowly.

Then there was melon-balling for our Fourth of July barbecue. I’d work the flesh out of half of a watermelon the size of an ottoman and add it to honeydew and blueberries to make fruit salad. Then the whole shebang would go back into the watermelon half. This took a while, and there was no way to cut a corner.

Along with not rushing the processes we can control, I wait for seasonal produce. I know I’m an exception. But I maintain that waiting all winter means a kaboom of true green flavor when you bite into that first stalk of roasted asparagus, greenness that gets right in the face of all of the cold and mud and ice and grit you’ve endured for months. It tells you, without question, it’s OVER.

Waiting means strawberries that are so ripe that they stain my fingers red when I pick them, and taste like sunbeams. It means the immense joy of a warm, slightly soft, utterly ripe heirloom tomato; a freshly picked apple that cracks audibly when you bite into it; and the mellow richness of a Lumina pumpkin, chosen from a wagon 32 steps away from the vine where it snoozed in the sun all summer. (Mario Batali got almost misty when he described the flavor of fresh fall produce: “You can taste that the ground has changed.” I can’t do better.) Our ancestors had no choice but to wait for what grew, and reaped the benefits of waiting. They knew from flavor.

There’s an art to holding out for something until it’s ready. Bite into a peach that’s gorgeous and hard as a rock and you’ll get a mouth full of nothing. A blackberry that’s glossy and firm guarantees you an almost painful tartness. A ripe berry will fall off into your palm with the gentlest tug. Forcing it means it’s not ready and not worth the lack of flavor.

Sometimes fruits and vegetables look (to our persnickety, Madison-Avenued eyes) their worst when they’re the most delicious and ripest. Passion fruits are ready when they’re half shriveled. One of my readers, a retired Southern farm wife, swears by the exceptional flavor of summer squash that’s covered in blemishes and warts. And fresh figs—they’re hardly worth eating if they’re not cracked and oozing.

You won’t find produce in stores looking like this, because consumers have grown detached from what food looks like when it’s ripe, and won’t buy it. Seek it out at farms, farmers’ markets, and orchards if you can’t score some off your neighbors who have a fig tree.

There’s an art to waiting for edibles and for non-edibles, for the things we can control (a little or a lot) and the things we can’t. And while I have been credited with having great patience…full disclosure, it ain’t always easy. Sometimes the art fails me. Sometimes it’s bloody hard.

This helps: I think back to a couple of weeks ago when I took a walk along the lake and found two or three patches of wild mint. It’s growing in profusion, because mint can hardly grow any other way. No one planted it. The universe deemed the time and place right, so up it came, and healthy as the day is long, too. If I tasted it in March, it wouldn’t have the bite and sweetness it grew into under the sun and rain all of these months. Mint, like all growing things, is ready when it’s ready. It’s a reminder that I can work for the things I can control, but everything else will come in time, the way it’s supposed to. That’s a comfort. And I couldn’t stop it if I tried.

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One of my college roommates is an army wife, the kind whose husband gets stationed in Iraq for over a year, leaving the onus of running the house, the three children and the three pets in it (and oh, yes, herself) pretty much on her shoulders. But this heroine still insisted on making her daughter a birthday cake, and used her favorite family recipe.

Her great-great grandmother’s recipe, to be exact. (I did the math.* This cake goes back to a time when anything but a tricorn hat was death on the red carpet). It’s easy to make. And the result is a tender, powerfully vanilla-y cake with a crumb that manages to be hearty and delicate at the same time.

There it is above with some of the mulberries from the tree outside my balcony. But this cake is versatile!

-It can be split, filled, and frosted with butter cream for a birthday.

-It can be topped with ice cream and hot fudge, or powdered sugar or creme fraiche.

-Or it can be sliced warm, unceremoniously plopped into the bottom of a bowl, and topped with yogurt or creme anglaise along with any manner of fruit. Here we are the top of August: choose something that’s ripe and ready now. Peaches. Plums. Blackberries. Raspberries. Blueberries. The cake will slurp up any sweet liquid and make it luscious.

1 1/2 c granulated sugar

1/2 c unsalted butter, softened

2 eggs (lightly beaten)

2 c all-purpose flour

1 c milk

1 tbsp. baking powder

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

A pinch salt (my addition)

Set oven to 375. Grease two 8″ cake pans. (Use springforms if you have them, or shanghai them from a friend; they have removable bottoms and make it easier to take the cakes out.)

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs. In a smaller bowl, combine flour with baking powder. Add to butter mixture, alternating with milk. Add extract and mix until combined. Bake for 25 minutes until golden and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.

Enjoy…and thanks, Beth 🙂

*I’m crap at it, but I did it.

 

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Carrots with the dirt still clinging. I hacked off the tops and fed them to Esmerelda Goat at Silverton Farms. She quite enjoyed them.

Dear Organizers,

Okay, yesterday clinched it.

Compliments first—and soak ’em in, because once I’m done all bets are off.

You know I’m a big fan. I’ve sung arias to farmers and their markets time and again. (Even more than that.)

Here’s what you get right:

1) You created the market in the first place, reviving a homespun way to buy food.

2) People get to meet, kibbutz, share recipes, and have a groovy old time.

3) We get the opportunity to buy food straight from the dirt. And sometimes it still has dirt, or feathers, or errant sticks in with it. This is a plus, I’m telling you. I like finding inchworms. It’s nearing high summer in New Jersey. I’m wildly digging the butterstick squash, the beans, the little potatoes, the sweet bells, and the countless other treasures borne of our happy little Zone 7’s earth and rain and sky.

Okay, put away the Kleenex and turn off the Luther Vandross*. All set? So glad. We’re going to hear a lot more on that last note:

What the…? Mangoes? On a New Jersey farmers’ market table? Jesus H. Sebastian God. I saw a dozen of these yesterday, and it wasn’t the first time. Lemons and limes. Bananas. Blueberries from Canada, when they’re in season right here, right now. When NJ produces 52 million pounds every season.**

Even more insulting, peaches and plums bought at bloody Pathmark, transferred to an aw-shucks-ain’t-that-homey-hope-they-don’t-notice-they’re-from-Bolivia pint box, presented to us with the store stickers still attached, and with the price marked up. To make matters worse (as if you could), most often all of the produce, local or not, is tagged with a ‘Jersey Fresh’ label. That’s stones. Oh, also? That loses you at least one customer, and I can’t imagine I’m alone.

Forget that this mishagoss doesn’t support NJ. Forget that often enough you’re continuing to hoodwink the consumer into thinking produce is in season when it’s not. Even forget the number it’s doing on the environment, bringing in food from thousands of miles away when you can get it right down the road.

Factor in nothing but the incomparable, insane flavor and nutrition that come from collards that were in still in the ground at 7 this morning and still have 4 this-morning’s dew on them. I’ll pay more for them. They’re worth more.

I’m at a farmers market, people. I don’t want some bollocksy greens that were picked a week ago Thursday and have been on vehicles with six different plates from three different countries. If I wanted greens that have more stamps on their passport than Beyonce, I’d go to Pathmark.

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Red plum from a NJ farmer’s tree.

Educate me. Please. I know quite a few farmers. I would never suggest the work a farmer does is easy. I know the powerful resilience it takes to fight the fight every season—against the weather, the bills, the aging machines (especially if he or she is one of them), the land developers whispering sweet nothings through screen doors. Making ends meet and staying optimistic takes a mighty, consistent effort, and they have my respect and gratitude always.

You might be thinking:

1) Some farmers sell non-local produce because they had a bad season.

2) Some only grow two things and want to sell their wares just like everyone else, want to make the trip to the market worth their while.

My rebuttal:

1) This has been a lovely, good-sun and good-rain growing season so far.

2) I see this practice most often among farmers who already have a dozen-plus different homegrown offerings. They set out all of their beautiful produce right next to watermelons from Georgia, picked unripe so they could travel the distance intact, when NJ’s own luscious melons will be in season in only two or so more weeks.

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Purple cabbage in noon-time sunshine.

It’s time—long overdue, to be perfectly honest—to take a page from Greenmarket in NYC. Many years ago when the Market was in its infancy some growers began showing up with bananas. The higher-ups ix-nayed that. Food was to be local, harvested within a certain number of miles, or it wasn’t allowed on the tables.

What’s keeping NJ—or any state or country’s market—from doing the same?

Pull it together,

MCP

*Actually, that you’re welcome to deep-six entirely.

**No, that’s not a typo.

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These days sleep is at a premium, and mornings are more hectic than ever. All the more reason to give in when the spirit, and appetite, cry out for the familiar, the homey, and the soothing.

The French call this recipe a clafouti, but don’t let it intimidate you (as anything with a Gallic slant can, and has, for so many of us ordinary home cooks). It’s just a custard with stewed fruit added. In France it’s usually made with cherries* and is technically a dessert, served warm, but I love it for breakfast. The eggs in it add a great punch of protein, which we can all use in the morning, no matter who we are or what’s on the docket for the day.

The clafouti is a staple in my house because it’s so delicious, so versatile, and so quick to throw together—you can take it from ingredients in the fridge to a pan in the oven in about half an hour. Kids don’t tend to argue with anything that’s sweet, creamy and fruity, either.

You can make it with any single fruit, really, or combine a few. Two of my favorite combinations are pineapples and mangoes with rum and apples and pears with apple brandy. Don’t worry about the alcohol; most of it burns off, leaving the custard with just a delicate fragrance.

After Hurricane Irene slammed us at the Jersey Shore, many of us lost power for days and with it, much of what we’d stashed for the winter in the freezer. I had picked mulberries from local trees in June and gorgeous organic blueberries in July. Berries are fragile—they take well to freezing once, but not twice—so I combined them for this. It was lovely, mellowly sweet.**

Take out an 8×8″ brownie pan and grease very well with canola oil or butter. In a medium bowl, combine 3 eggs, 1 c milk (any kind) or cream, 2/3 c all-purpose flour, a couple of tablespoons of melted butter, and 1 tsp pure vanilla extract. I use a 2 c glass liquid measuring jug as my bowl and then stir with a fork. Easier.

Take out a wide, flat skillet, put it on medium heat, add another pat of butter, let it melt a bit, then add your fruit. Any kind will do, about 4 c total. Put in 1/2 c sugar or honey and stir. If you’re using fall or winter fruits like pears, apples, or cranberries, brown sugar is awesome. Add a little booze, maybe a 1/4 c, or more if you’re feeding adults who are cranky in the mornings. Grand Marnier is an orange liqueur and is wonderful with most fruits; tropical fruits take well to their neighbor, rum; Amaretto, an almond liqueur, pairs well with any fruit in its family, like peaches, nectarines or apricots. Or just add extra vanilla extract, which is just vanilla steeped in alcohol. It’s kind of fun messing around with different combinations.

Cook the fruit until it’s a little soft and it’s hot, then pour it into your pan. Give the egg mixture one more quick stir, then pour that over the fruit. If you want, top the whole shebang with a little bit of cinnamon sugar—that’s maybe 1/4 c sugar mixed with 1-2 tsp cinnamon.

Put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil (to catch any spillage). Bake in a 375 oven for 20 minutes if you want your clafouti soft and a bit loose, up to 30 minutes if you like it set.

I shot the clafouti photo above in a beautiful little milk glass bowl, but that’s false advertising. My favorite way to eat it is as the heathen I am, with a spoon and the entire pan in front of me. No, I don’t eat the whole thing. But Lord knows I could. And in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve come close.

*with the stones left in them. The French think they lend flavor to the dish. At least that’s what they say, and I’ve decided to believe them. I’d hate to think a nation that produced a smile button like Jacques Torres would be malicious at heart.

**It’s fun to say mellowly.

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Blueberry rows.

(disclaimer: a ten-year-old who was picking blueberries with his family one row over from me supplied the title for this post, which I overheard and flagrantly lifted. I’m nothing if not resourceful.)

last sunday was beautiful: sunny, a few lazy clouds, a cool, steady breeze. it was the perfect day to go to the beach. but I live here, sand permanently lodged in my shoes, so on this day I opted to head inland. made a point to giggle smugly at the traffic headed east, too.

exit 16 off 195 is celebrated as the gateway to great adventure (no one from new jersey calls it six flags), but it’s also the road to the ultimate blueberries, at emery’s organic blueberry farm.

been there many times before, so I knew the drill: wear boots and a hat, grab a little bucket with a cord attached to wear around the neck (that you’ll fill as you pick) as well as a pickle bucket (your blueberry motherload). the walk out to the fields is so short that I never opt to take the hayride. besides, if I’d been riding, I wouldn’t have been able to snag this shot:

emery’s eight varieties of high-bush blueberries were planted decades ago. I picked blueray. for those of you who are used to supermarket varieties (counting myself among you), this berry is a completely different animal. it’s floral, delicately sweet and aromatic. so along with the almost tangible quiet, the wind and the sun, you can also smell the berries ripening in the fields.

something really cool that seems to be changing: I’ve been harvesting fruit for a long time, and in the beginning—I’m not kidding—I was the only native english speaker in the fields. asian and eastern european languages were the norm. listening and watching elderly women, all deeply-creviced faces and skilled fingers, showing their great-grandchildren how to pick, was lovely. at the apple orchard the women often carried pocket knives, carving off wedges that they nibbled on and shared while they picked, as effortlessly as breathing. if you or I had been transported to that spot without our knowledge, we wouldn’t have known what country we were in.

but just as exhilarating as that was, ordinary american-bred families are starting to turn up at fields like emery’s, picking, learning, and dreaming about what to cook. (sara lee execs just grimaced. good.) a twenty-something dad with a ravenous one-year-old girl shooed her out of my motherload bucket. talk about resourceful: even at her tender age she figured out the best way to get blueberries.

‘she likes blueberries?’ I ask.

‘aw, she loves ’em. we’re here a lot. these don’t taste anything like the store.’

I could have sworn this guy was giving me a dirty look. He is, isn't he?

a tank-topped woman in her fifties calls out to me.

‘do you freeze your berries? how do you do it?’

‘stem them, wash and dry them, spread them on a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment underneath and put them in the freezer. when they’re like pebbles, put them in freezer bags.’

‘and that keeps them from getting soft?’

‘no, they’re still going to get soft. but they’re fine to cook with.’

all berries are fragile. freezing is a dramatic move that’s a trade-off: it will preserve them for you, but they lose their original chubby cheeks. if chubby cheeks are what you love, gobble as many fresh ones as you can.

a cheerful couple in their fifties came over and peeked into my motherload bucket.

‘we’re impressed! how long did it take you to pick that many?’

‘well, let’s see…I got here at 10:30. what time is it now?’

we laughed, and they asked what I planned to make. lemon-lime tart, pie with vanilla yogurt at the base, and this year I’m going to try ice cream. the man grinned; “we’re coming to your house!’

it’s fun, kibbutzing with total strangers about blueberry freezing techniques and recipes. everyone is in a good mood.

another thought: no one needs to be there. you can buy blueberries at any supermarket, of questionable quality though they may be. you can also buy emery’s own fresh or frozen blueberries from their farm store. I guess it’s safe to say that if all of these people are picking blueberries on a gorgeous sunday when they could be shut up in the house playing wii bowling or swiffering the basement floor or whatever it is people do on sundays, they must really want to be there. and they act like it.

carried my haul to the main building and handed it to the kids who weighed it. 27 lbs. strutted awhile. then took my ticket inside to pay for them, to get a giant chocolate-chip cookie—only healthy lunches for me—and to get a jersey blues blueberry iced tea.

at the register was emery’s farmer, john marchese. it’s the height of the season, and the man still goes behind the counter to chat and laugh with his customers. I told him I drove an hour, give or take, to pick his blueberries because they don’t taste anything like the store’s, and told him they do good work there. he was in the middle of ringing up my food and stopped and looked at me.

‘we work really hard here, and when people say things like that, it makes it all worth it.’

sweet all around.

http://www.emerysfarm.com/

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