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Volume 37 Issue 13, July 19 - 25, 2007
now in our 37th season

Summer Reading and Blueberries

by Maryjane Mojer

While curling up with a cup of tea and a good book is a great winter pastime, nothing beats a beach read for me.  I guess it’s the multitasking aspect of it; the sun on my skin, a bit of a tan, relaxation, and reading.  I love  literary fiction and have a special fondness for beach novels.  Elin Hilderbrand Cunningham’s Barefoot is next in the stack, with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows not far behind.  Reading is a hobby and an escape.  I can sit on my couch or in my beach chair (or in line at the drive through at the bank or on the fast boat or slow boat) and travel.  My daughter and I are planning a trip to Europe for next spring.  While we surf the various websites, and read through the travel guides, there’s a bit of a blur as to where my memories of dinners in Paris contradict with the fact that I haven’t actually been there as yet.  Good writing is a powerful thing.

Reading about food combines two of my favorite pastimes.  I subscribe to about a dozen food magazines and use them as both reference guides and asescapes.  There are also several food writers that I love to read including some restaurant critics who no longer critique restaurants that no longer exist. 

M.F.K Fisher is someone that I’ve read and re read and then read again. How to Cook a Wolf  feels like a conversation with my grandmother.  I also adore Elizabeth David’s Italian Food and Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking.  All three of these amazing women have influenced how I look at food, how I cook, and how I’ve taught my children about food and cooking.

As for cookbooks, the one that I turn to again and again is my very dog-eared, stained and tattered Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash.  This is the book that I give as a wedding gift more often than not.  Every recipe is a winner and the stories and descriptions make it a great read.  The Art of French Cooking is a must for every kitchen, and Simone Beck’s Food and Friends gives such a great background of Julia Childs and Simone Beck’s friendship, the evolution of their books and the influence that they have both had on food and cooking.

There is also a short story by Isak Dinesen that was made into a movie.  Babette’s Feast is a heartrending and beautiful story of a woman who pays back an extraordinary kindness by preparing a meal for the pious sisters that gave her shelter.  Such a simplistic description for something so touching. Good for a rainy summer’s day.  Food in movies is always something that I look for. The scene at the end of Big Night when Primo cooks an omelet for his brothers makes me cry every time.  An omelet. Oy.

One of my favorite childhood books was (and is) Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey.  Reading it is an annual event.  I love the whole story, but I especially love the illustrations of the kitchen.  Obviously, Mom and Sal are going to put up the blueberries, so all of the canning implements are spread out.  Pots, pans, jars, funnels and the like.  Oh, to be in that kitchen.

Blueberries are ripe right about now.  Chances are you won’t encounter a mama and baby bear while you’re out picking here on Nantucket, but you may find poison ivy and ticks.  Both can be dealt with by wearing long sleeves and long pants, and checking each other when you get home.  If you have the patience to pick enough for preserving, you are far and away ahead of me.  I may pick enough for a batch of muffins.  These days I’m more inclined to buy berries than pick them, but every couple of years I get the urge, grab my pail and head to the woods.

My friend Jane sent me this recipe about fifteen years ago.  It’s just as good now as then.

Jane’s Blueberry Lemon Muffins

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup butter milk
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 1/2 cups blueberries

Mix together all dry ingredients. Mix together all wet ingredients.  Combine both, and mix till well blended. Spoon into prepared muffin tins. (Spray well, muffin papers optional.)

If you have the inkling and like to gild the lily a bit, you can make a glaze with 1 cup of confectioners sugar and a quarter cup of lemon juice.

Blueberry Crisp

Because I haven’t the patience to pick enough berries, I like to make a peach and blueberry crisp.  You are welcome to use one or the other or both. This recipe also works great with apples or any leftover fruit you may have lurking in the fridge.

Generously butter an oven proof pan and preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  For a 9” x 13” pan, you’ll need about four to six cups of fruit. Pour the fruit into the pan.  Dot generously with butter.

Crisp topping

This goes together very quickly in a food processor, with a hand held mixer, or by hand.  Leftovers freeze well, or use it to top your muffins before you bake them for a streusel topping.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 lb cold butter, cut into pieces

If you’re using power tools (mixer, processor, etc.) mix until just blended.  You’re looking for a crumbly mix, not a dough.  When combined, spread generously on top of berries.  Bake for about 30 minutes until fruit is bubbling and top is golden brown.

So much is coming out about various foods and their nutritive value.  We now know that berries of all kinds and blueberries in particular are high in an tioxidants and vitamins. They’re a versatile, delicious snack, a great addition to any meal.  Either pick them or pick them up, but it’s blueberry time!

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