August 13, 2009

Slump, Buckle and Grunt Posted by Kate Flora Though these words sound a lot like the advice my trainer, Ryan, (check him out left...wouldn't you do what the man says?) might be giving me as he tries to deflab my aging arms with increasingly heavy weights, they actually refer to some of the blueberry desserts my Maine ancestors might have been making in August. I'm thinking a lot about blueberries this year. I grew up on a farm in Maine, and the blueberry harvest was a big part of my summer. When I was a young teen, I worked on a blueberry raking crew, out in the fields day after day with a blueberry rake, hunched over in the hot August sun filling basket after basket with rich blue berries. We were too poor for "extras" and that "blueberry money" meant I could have a new outfit for school. It meant, one stellar year, that I could buy a transistor radio, a small, sleek radio in a leather case with a handle, that would bring the whole world of rock and roll to me, mysteriously, right out of the air. When I was older, my summer job was in the blueberry processing plant. Teenage girls and local housewives sat on stools along a long conveyor belt as an endless stream of berries flowed in front of us. The berries had already been winnowed in the field, a process that tries to blow out the leaves, green berries, twigs and bits of dirt. Now it was our job to pick out what was left. A lot of things were left. Many more twigs, clods of dirt or moss, mice, spiders, bees, wasps, the occasional small snake. It was basic agricultural labor. If a lot of fields had been raked that day, all those berries had to be processed. We might be there until midnight, getting all the berries cleaned, into those big, plastic lined boxes and into the cooler. Home at eleven or midnight, then sneaking down to the pond to cool off by skinny-dipping in the moonlight, the eerie calls of the loons punctuating the night's quiet. Wild blueberries are an every other year crop. In the alternate year, the fields are burned and there are no berries. Since I only have one field, this means I can only have the pleasure of picking my berries every other year, and that delayed gratification makes picking that much more special. Last Friday, my niece Kate, my nephew Robbie, and I drove the sixty miles on crowded Maine summer highways up to the town of Union, home of the Union Fair and the Maine Blueberry Festival, to pick berries. The crop is absolutely amazing--the branches heavily weighted with gorgeous, dusty-blue fruit. There, in the hot August sun, with the air filled with scents of drying weeds, dust, and the sweetness of sun-ripened fruit, we connected with all the centuries of Maine settlers who spent their summers gathering food for the seasons when there would be no crops. High on a hilltop, the blue pond spread out below us, we marveled at the amazing crop of berries. Just one branch was a handful. We recited bits from Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal, a book from my childhood that was carried forward into theirs. Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk, as blueberries went into the metal pail until the bottom was covered and the berries didn't echo anymore. In my childhood, our berry pails were giant metal Shedd's Peanut Butter pails. Now we pick into gallon zippered plastic bags. But we still come home with blue fingers, blue tongues and teeth, and for me and Kate, in our flipflops, slightly blue feet. Lemon Blueberry Buckle - serves 6 to 8 - Adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Julie Richardson and Cory Schreiber. Ingredients 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature, for pan Crumb Topping 1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour 1/3 cup (2 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt Zest of 1 lemon 1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed Cake 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (8 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar Zest of 1 lemon 2 eggs 1/2 cup buttermilk 2 cups (10 ounces) blueberries, fresh or frozen Lemon Syrup 1/3 cup (2 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar Juice of 2 lemons Procedure 1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan. 2. To make the crumb topping, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest together in a bowl, then add the butter and use a fork or your fingers to cut the butter until the size of peas. Place the topping in the freezer while you mix the cake batter. 3. To make the cake, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg together in a bowl. Using a handheld mixer with beaters or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and lemon zest together on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the flour mixture in three additions, beginning and and ending with the dry ingredients and scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Gently fold in 1 cup of the blueberries, spread the batter into the prepared pan, and distribute the remaining 1 cup of blueberries over the cake. 4. Sprinkle the chilled crumb topping over the berries, then bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until lightly golden and firm on top. 5. To make the glaze, combine the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and whisk until blended. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until syrupy. The glaze will bubble while cooking,...
The Tomatoes Here Are Sundried posted by Leann Sweeney In Texas, our summer has been brutal. Heat indexes have hovered between 100 and 115 most of July and August. I have lived here for thirty-five years and cannot remember it ever being this hot for so long. The good news is, the heat makes for far fewer hurricanes. In fact, no storms have even wandered into the Gulf. We deserved that break after last year. We are still in recovery mode from Ike. But sadly, my husband's tomatoes died an early death. Not that we didn't have plenty (that's my granddaughter picking a few), but I wasn't begging strangers on the street to take home a grocery sack full. We actually were able to put them all on the kitchen table this time, when usually they take up the table and every bit of counter space. But I know that many of you are only now enjoying your home grown tomatoes--or perhaps those given to you from friends or relatives. They are wonderful, aren't they? Gorgeous and so full of flavor. How do they manage to remove every ounce of taste from super market tomatoes? Is there a person in some warehouse with a giant syringe who has come up with a method to suck the life out of these beautiful creatures and then make you buy them, all the while praying you've ended up with some that have at least some taste? And aren't you always disappointed? Maybe it's time to have a town hall meeting and shout at the commercial tomato growers. Of course what we will be shouting isn't a bunch of made-up stuff. We'll actually shout out the truth: your tomatoes suck. Since I am on a quickly approaching deadline and am suffering from brain drain, I thought I might offer up some of things we do with tomatoes at our house. I won't give you the ketchup recipe. Too much work. And I won't have you blanching and canning. I hate to even think about that. A steamy kitchen is not summery. But I will give you two great recipes that use fresh tomatoes. First is for salsa. We eat a lot of salsa in Texas and it's pretty darn easy. This one has cilantro and if you don't like heat in your mouth, then skip the hot pepper in this recipe: 3 big tomatoes diced into small pieces 1 sweet onion, also diced small I jalapeno diced small (or other hot pepper) and be careful about those seeds! You can toss them into the salsa but then you will really have hot salsa. If you seed the pepper, use kitchen gloves and do not touch your face once you handle the seeds. (OUCH--which I know from personal experience.) juice from 2 limes 1/2 c. of chopped cilantro salt to taste Mix everything and chill. The longer you chill the better it gets. The other recipe is one I have used for years and is so easy and GREAT for summer: Mexican Salad 2 chopped fresh tomatoes 1 chopped bell pepper 1 chopped sweet onion or red onion 1 can of Ranch Style Beans (big can). (Pour into colander and rinse well) I small bottle of Catalina dressing Mix everything in a covered bowl and let it sit in the fridge for several hours. Just before serving add 2 cups of shredded cheddar and serve over Fritos. (Watching your weight? Skip the Fritos) Enjoy!

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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