From growing to cooking, blueberries are perfect for today’s hectic lifestyles.
Take the cultivation aspects. Compared to other berry varieties, there’s a lot less work involved. For one thing, blueberry bushes last longer than the average Hollywood marriage — 40 to 50 years.
Plus, they are a cooperative plant. 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?” “Will this late spring rain ruin the strawberry crop?”), the plucky blueberry seems to come with a fret-free guarantee. The hardy blueberry seems to weather floods, freezes and high-velocity winds with a relative amount of grace and still manage to show up in our ice cream churners in time for fireworks.
Then there’s the ease of preparation. Talk about a convenience food: no pit, no peel, no puttering. Even freezing is a snap. Just pack washed and dried blueberries into resealable plastic freezer bags and pop them into the freezer. Which makes it the perfect fruit for people who have to put off making their preserves until fall or winter.
The blueberries we find in the market are the cultivated cousins of the intensely flavored huckleberry we harvest in the wild. And just like the wily huckleberry, domestic varieties come in a wide range of colors, sizes and flavors.
This is significant information, particularly when it comes to flavor. Before moving to Oregon, my mother was sure that blueberries lacked character. But her only experience had been with the tasteless imports she bought in California. During her first summer in Corvallis, she stumbled upon some of the local crop at a farmers market and became an enthusiastic member of the Blue-Tongued Berry Club.
We grow more than 50 varieties in the Northwest, offering blueberry lovers a taste for every preference, from tart and zippy to smooth and aromatic. When selecting blueberries of any variety, look for plump, richly colored berries of fairly uniform size. The silvery “bloom” on the skin is the fruit’s natural protective waxy coating.
Two Blue Dressing
Here’s a tantalizing twist on traditional blue cheese dressing. Blue Cheese and blueberries pair up for a delicious topping for summer greens and Walla Walla Sweets.
Serves 4 to 6.
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped shallot
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1 cup fresh blueberries, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups fresh salad green mixture
Half of a Walla Walla Sweet (or other sweet onion)
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1 ripe tomato, diced
1/2 green sweet bell pepper, seeded and sliced
Place vinegar, shallots and garlic in blender or food processor, and chop to finely mince the onion. Add 1/2 cup of the blueberries, and using the “pulse” switch or brief bursts with the on-off switch, chunk up the blueberries without turning it into a puree. Scrape the mixture into a bowl. Whisk in the salt and pepper, then the blue cheese, mashing some of the larger cheese chunks so that they can merge with the vinegar. Whisk in honey and continue whisking until it is dissolved into the vinegar. Whisk in the olive oil. Adjust seasonings. Dressing may be prepared up to 8 hours ahead and refrigerated.
When ready to serve, combine the salad greens with the Walla Walla Sweets, the remaining 1/2 cup of blueberries, tomato, and green sweet bell pepper in a salad bowl. Add some of the dressing and toss to thoroughly coat the greens.
Simple Blueberry Sauce
A simple sauce that will instantly jazz up your favorite cheesecake, morning waffles or ice cream.
2 cups fresh (or frozen) blueberries
2 to 4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
In a medium-size saucepan, over medium heat, combine the blueberries with the sugar, lemon juice and water. Gently stir and shake until the sugar has dissolved and the berries are soft, about 5 minutes.
Blueberry and Apricot Crumble
1 cup packed brown sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups pitted and halved fresh apricots (or sliced peaches), about 1 pound
2 cups fresh (or frozen) blueberries
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cornstarch and the 1 teaspoon of salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the blueberries, apricots and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients, gently tossing to coat the fruit. Pour the fruit mixture into the prepared baking dish.
For the topping: in a food processor, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Process to blend. Add the butter and process until coarse crumbs form. To prepare by hand, combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter cubes and cut in with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture is crumbly.
Sprinkle the prepared topping over the fruit. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and the fruit is bubbling. Let cool and serve.
Wedges of this hot amber bread, mottled with local blueberries and lavished with creamy butter and warm honey, are hard to match for down-home goodness. Other berries can be substituted, especially raspberries, which are marvelous against earthy cornmeal.
3/4 cup (1-1/2 cubes) butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1-1/2 cups coarse-grind yellow cornmeal
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 cup blueberries
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Grease a 9- or 10-inch square baking pan.
Combine the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream together until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the eggs until thoroughly blended, then beat in the cornmeal.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Alternating, mix the dry ingredients and the milk into the creamed ingredients, ending with milk. Gently fold in the blueberries.
Turn the mixture into the prepared pan. Place in the oven and bake until lightly browned and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool slightly on a wire rack before serving.
Recipe from “Oregon’s Cuisine of the Rain” by Karen Brooks.
I’ve adapted a wonderful condiment developed by Greg Higgins, owner/chef of Higgins, a popular downtown Portland restaurant. It’s fabulous over grilled salmon, ahi tuna, poultry and pork. You can start with fresh blueberries for this first go-around, then dip into your frozen cache later in the year.
After making this chutney, ladle it into jars and refrigerate. It’s not a candidate for boiling water canning, because its acid level may not be high enough to be sealed and stored safely at room temperature.
4 cups fresh (or frozen) blueberries
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup red or white wine vinegar
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup dried cherries
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
2 tablespoons good-quality curry powder (preferably Madras)
2 teaspoons yellow or brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Wash 4 half-pint jars and lids (because this chutney will be stored in the refrigerator, you don’t have to use canning jars). Set aside until needed.
In a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized pot, combine the blueberries, onion, vinegar, brown sugar, dried cherries, ginger, garlic, curry powder, mustard seeds and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the onions are very tender and the chutney has thickened (about 20 to 25 minutes). Stir often to avoid scorching. Remove from heat and let cool before adding the mint.
Spoon the mixture into the clean jars. Attach lids. Refrigerate. Will keep, refrigerated, for several months without suffering in quality.
Oregon Blueberry Relish
Makes about 6 cups.
Gently tart and lightly spiced, this whole-berry relish makes a wonderful accompaniment for smoked pork chops, grilled chicken and roasted duck and turkey.
3 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups water
3 pint baskets (about 9 cups) firm-ripe blueberries, rinsed and drained
1-1/2 cups cider vinegar
Zest (outer peel only, no white pith) of 2 oranges, cut into 3/4-inch wide strips
3 sticks (2-inches each) cinnamon, coarsely broken
1-1/2 teaspoons whole allspice
1 teaspoon whole coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
Combine the sugar and 1-1/2 cups water in a large pan. Heat over medium heat to boiling; boil 1 minute. Add the blueberries and return the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the mixture, uncovered, at a hard simmer just until the berries are broken, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Pour the berries into a sieve set over a bowl and drain off the syrup. Set the berries aside for later; return the syrup to the pan. Add the vinegar, orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, coriander and cloves to the syrup and heat to boiling over medium-high heat. Boil the mixture, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is reduced by about half and registers 220 degrees on a candy-jelly thermometer; this will take about 50 minutes. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, if you plan to store the relish in jars at room temperature, wash 3 pint or 6 half-pint jars. Keep hot until needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs. If you plan to refrigerate or freeze, wash suitable containers and dry thoroughly.
Strain the spices from the syrup and discard; return the syrup to the pan. Add the berries and any juices that have accumulated in the bowl and heat the mixture over medium-high heat to boiling. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the relish at a simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
For storage in refrigerator or freezer, place in plastic freezer containers or glass jars, cover with tight fitting lids and refrigerate or freeze.
For long-term storage at room temperature, ladle the hot relish 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 15 minutes.
Adapted from “Fancy Pantry,” by Helen Witty.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or see her blog at www.janrd.com.