The Summer Blues

Summer is here. In just a couple of days the 4th of July will be here too. And, to me that  means the start of blueberry season. Blueberries are one of my favorite gifts from summer.

IMG_3209 copyI grew up on the remnants of what was once a sheep farm. The old barn was still there, though no longer housing animals. There were old fruit trees that were barely hanging on, but there was a blueberry patch that was in its prime. The taste of fresh blueberries still takes me right back to my childhood.

I have fond memories of playing outside for long stretches of time, and stopping by the patch to look for the biggest berries. There were times my siblings and I would pretend the whole patch was our home and eat every ripe berry in sight.

IMG_3187 copyI know my my mom found the big berry patch to be most helpful to her. When she needed to get things done (or maybe so she could have a break from the three of us) she’d send us outside to pick berries. She’d consider picking blueberries one of our “summer chores,” and each of us was required to fill a bowl full of berries, it seemed like, every day of summer. The reward was sweet of course. We enjoyed many breakfasts with blueberry pancakes. The rest were frozen to use on those for those cold winter days when we would bake them into warm blueberry muffins or a blueberry pie.

That blueberry patch was special in other ways too.  My grandmother taught me how to bake a pie with her crust recipe, which scored a blue ribbon at The Great Geauga County Fair for best in show, when I was a senior in high school.

As I look back on the carefree summer days of my childhood, I realize that”chore” of picking blueberries was more influential on my values today then my parents ever intended or imagined. Eating fresh fruit right off the branch and learning how to cook, prepare, and store it is a skill that I learned growing up. It’s sad to me that so many people didn’t have those kinds of experiences, or draw direct connections to their food the way we did.  I am grateful for having that opportunity more and more everyday. Now, I enjoy passing along this knowledge to others through cooking workshops.

Here’s a recipe to preserve blueberries for use all year long. There are many ways to enjoy the intense blueberry flavor from this butter.  You can try it in a vinaigrette, BBQ sauce or make a blueberry shrub (a personal favorite).

Slow Cooker Blueberry Butter  *Adapted from Food in Jars

Yield: Approximately 3 1/2 Pints

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of pureed blueberries
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, grated (you can also try other spices like cinnamon, vanilla bean, lavender or for a little spice jalapeno so feel free to play around with your favorite flavor combination here)

Instructions

  1. Put the pureed blueberries in a slow cooker. Place a lid on the pot and turn it on to low. After about an hour, give it a stir. After about an hour, you want to be sure the steam can escape. Either prop the lid open by tilting the lid or place a wooden spoon under the lid.
  2. My blueberry butter spends about 8 hours in the slow cooker. At the beginning of hour five, I added the spices and the sugar, removed the lid completely and turned the heat up to high, in order to speed the cooking down. This time line will depend on your slow cooker. Some cook much hotter than others.
  3. Once it’s cooked down to your desired consistency, pour into jars (leave a good 1/2 inch of head space), wipe rims, apply lids and screw on bands. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. This will last on your shelves for about 6 months to a year.

Notes: When the cooking process is done, you can puree with an immersion blender or in a regular blender (Vitamix would be ideal here), for a smoother product. It depends on whether you like your butters a bit chunky or very smooth. I’ve done it both ways with great success.

—Kelli Hanley PottsIMG_3213 copy

Kelli owns The Agrarian Collective, a Newbury-based recreational lifestyle school, rooted in the kitchen. Kelli’s mission is to teach the lost arts of the home cooking and preserving, table culture, and the connection between field and fork. Look for The Agrarian Collective around town, including The Cleveland Flea.

Photos taken at Voytko Farms in Auburn Twp. by Maureen Cari of Knotty Pine Photography.

Can’t get enough blueberries? Read about Blueberry Hill Farm, an organic blueberry farm we visited last summer and be sure to check out the Blueberry Festival at Mustard Seed Market & Cafe on July 11 and the Blueberrry BBQ being cooked up by Chef Doug Katz at Greenfield Berry Farm in Peninsula on July 16.