It has been a long, hard winter, a long hard year in fact, but things are looking up now that we are finally slipping into what I think of as the fresh food season.
I already knew it in the back of my mind, but it really hit home a few minutes ago when a fresh blueberry galette recipe from our friends at Walmart (complete with photo) popped up on Facebook and reminded me that blueberry season is almost here. Time for picking, time for baking, and time for freezing them for use throughout the cold, nasty winter that will be back here again before we know it.
But native strawberries are the star of the day right now for this brief moment in time. I found some at the local farmstand in Manville last weekend and was so excited. I bought a quart of those juicy red babies, dashed to the market to buy heavy cream, and then phoned my sister Bev with the news that biscuit shortcakes were baking in the oven as we spoke and why don’t she and her husband come on over ASAP? I didn’t have to ask twice. They were at my door just as I was spooning the freshly whipped cream into a serving dish. You really have to eat your fill while they’re here, because they will be gone again before you know it, and there’s just no comparison between the soft, sweet local berries and the “Styrofoam,” half-green impostors otherwise found in supermarkets year-round.
Off-season blueberries aren’t as bad quality-wise, but I still love being out there in July picking my own, as many pounds of them as I can afford, and then freezing them, 2 cups per freezer bag, for blueberry muffins and cobblers year round. The best part of having fresh blueberries, though, is making the Lemon Blueberry Scones that require fresh-only berries. Call me old-fashioned, but while almost all foods can now be found in supermarkets year round, what I really most enjoy is being able to eat fresh produce during its normal local season - asparagus being another example.
I can remember when I was first married and bought fresh asparagus for the first time. For some reason (and I can think of several reasons) we only ever had the canned stuff at home and we loved it, but discovering the fresh, non-mushy version was mind-boggling, as in “where-have-you-been-all-my-life?” stunned. Kind of like eating fresh ravioli after you’ve only ever had Chef Boyardee, if you know what I mean.
But now that the growing season has kicked off with strawberries and soon to be blueberries, there will be a steady stream of fresh produce coming our way and I plan to enjoy it all. Corn on the cob, string beans both yellow and green, cucumbers (in fresh pickles for me since I don’t otherwise like cucumbers), zucchini, green peppers, and real tomatoes.
Oh, and peaches! Big, ripe, sweet, soft peaches, the kind that send juice running down your chin no matter how careful you try to be when biting into them. I buy them by the half bushel right from the orchard late in August, mainly for freezing and making jam. Is it a lot of work? You bet it is. But well worth every minute of it. Same thing with tomatoes. I buy the “seconds” by the 25-pound box and process them by the case for making soup all winter long. I grew up on soup made with home-canned tomatoes and there is just no supermarket substitute.
I don’t plant my own vegetables, though. Way too much work for what I get in return since I seem to have a black thumb when it comes to vegetable gardening. Herbs, however, are a different story.
I had wanted an herb garden for years, and finally got around to planting one more than 30 years ago, right in front of my kitchen window at the front of the house where they would be easily accessible for use in cooking. The basil is looking beautiful right now, as are the chives, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and oregano. I also planted cilantro, which I love but was never was successful with, and mint - yes, mint - but this time hopefully contained in a pot. The parsley, however, not so much. I waited too long to buy plants and what I have is looking pretty pathetic. I am hoping it may come around eventually, but it’s not looking good so far.
In spite of the parsley, though, summer is really looking to be a good season.
Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze
(a Tyler Florence cooking channel recipe)
2 cups flour
1 tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbs. sugar
5 tbs. cold butter cut in chunks
1 cup heavy cream (I use half & half)
1 cup fresh (not frozen) blueberries
Ingredients lemon glaze
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
1 tbs. soft butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
• Sift together dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, sugar). Using two knives or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour. Mixture should look like coarse crumbs.
• Make a well in the center, pour in the heavy cream. Fold everything together just to incorporate. Do not overwork the dough.
• Gently fold the blueberries into the batter, taking care not to mash or bruise the berries or their color will bleed into the batter.
• Pat the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a roughly 12-inch-by-3-inch-by-1 1/4-inch thick rectangle.
• Cut the rectangle in half then cut in half again giving you four (3-inch) squares.
• Cut the squares in half on the diagonal to give you eight triangular shaped pieces.
Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown.