Plump blueberries are welcome signs of summer. The season is in full swing by the time they’re ripe and ready, and even though that means it’s easily 100 degrees in the shade (and if you’ve read some of my other articles, you know how much I hate being hot), I still make at least two trips each June and July to my nearest u-pick farm and spend an hour or two in stifling heat filling white buckets with hundreds of the frosted-indigo fruit.
I go as early as I can to avoid the worst of the heat, but so does everyone else, so there’s usually a decent crowd. I don’t mind. I enjoy taking my time, wandering down the rows, making my way around branches hanging heavy with berries. I flit around, never picking any one bush clean; I get a few here, a few there, and keep moving. I listen to the other pickers around me. Some are silent, focused on their task, but parents and kids are usually chatting. Dads tell daughters which berries to pick, and moms guide little boy hands so they don’t pull the green ones off along with the ripe ones. It pulls up memories of my grandmother who showed me how to pick. She’d cup a berry bunch in her hand and jostle it just a bit, rolling the biggest ones with the deepest color gently between her index finger and thumb. They’d come off the stem with only minimal effort. “When they’re really ready, they don’t resist,” she’d say. “They let go.” That’s how I pick now. I never tug or yank.
While I listen and reminisce, I also try to remember to watch my step, since fire ants seem to like blueberries too and often build their red-dirt, mini-mountain homes in the sunny spots beyond the bushes’ perimeter of shade, which are right where you’re feet need to be when tending to a bush.
Despite usually leaving with a few bites, sunburned ears, and my shirt firmly sweat-stuck to my back, I also leave with gallons of blueberries, well worth any temporary discomfort. I eat at least half of them as they are, no cooking or additions needed. But below are two other ways to enjoy them.
If you go blueberry picking, go ahead and get a bunch. If you don’t think you can eat them all before they spoil, freeze them to use later. (See my trick below for keeping them in good shape.) Popping one of last summer’s berries between your teeth while chewing a bite of pancake in January instantly brightens a dreary winter day.
BASIC BLUEBERRY SYRUP
Spoon this stuff on ice cream, pancakes, waffles, cornbread, whatever!
- 2 cups blueberries
- 5 teaspoons sugar
- ¼ cup water
Place berries in medium saucepan with sugar and water. Put on medium-high heat and simmer. Once the berries begin to break down, turn the heat back a bit and keep cooking until they start to thicken to a syrupy consistency. It should take about 10–15 minutes.
FREE-FORM BLUEBERRY TART
This rustic dessert is crazy easy, especially if you do like I do and use store-bought dough.
- One 10–12 inch circle of store-bought pie crust dough, thawed
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 4 cups blueberries
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon water
- 2 tablespoons blueberry jam (or use the basic blueberry syrup)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees and place a rack in the middle. Place dough circle on a piece of parchment paper and place on a baking sheet.
Mix berries and the rest of the ingredients (except the jam) together in a bowl. Pile the berry mixture in the center of the dough and leave a 2–3 inch border. Fold the edges of the dough over the edge of the blueberry pile, pinching the dough to seal up any cracks that happen as you fold.
Bake until dough is golden brown and berries are bubbling, about 40–45 minutes.
Melt the jam (or heat the syrup) in a small saucepan over low heat.
Let the tart cool for about 15 minutes, and right before serving, brush the berries with the jam.
Save ‘Em for Later
Blueberries freeze beautifully, if you do it right. Make sure the berries are clean and dry, and lay them in a single layer on a sheet pan. They can touch on the sides a bit but should not be jumbled up on top of each other. Place the pan in the freezer and freeze the berries solid (several hours). Then package the individually frozen berries in freezer-safe zip-top bags. Defrost as needed all fall and winter long to add summer’s sweetness to cereal, pancakes, muffins, pies, or whatever you like.