Pick Your Own Blueberries, Bake Your Own Muffins!
I followed the "Glade Link Farms" signs off the main road to a parking area under tall, shady oak trees. Looking across the sunny blueberry fields, I saw the Catoctin Mountains and felt the cool afternoon breeze that blows from the foothills. I got my bucket and was directed down a row of enormous bushes, just loaded with huge plump berries. Heavenly!
Before my bucket was halfway filled, I had a new resolution: I would not use any of my own garden space for blueberries. Instead, I would come here every year and enjoy the luxury of picking my own from well-tended bushes in a beautiful setting.
When you pick blueberries, look for the darkest colored ripe berries that fall easily into your hand at a touch. A few under-ripe fruits with a cranberry tinge are fine if you're making jam, but too many in your bowl will pucker your mouth. The berries should still be firm, not squishy or split. Damaged berries can attract mold to spoil a whole container of fruit, so don't put split fruit into your bucket (just eat it).
When you get your berries home, it's a good idea to sort through them. No matter how carefully I pick, I always find a few twigs, green berries, and softened fruits to toss into the compost. Blueberries seem to store better, either refrigerated or frozen, if you don't wash them. That's also why I prefer to pick berries when they're dry. Wet berries are more likely to spoil. You can wash them just before using, or you can make the same assumption I do: if we've had a heavy rain within a few days of picking, then I figure they are clean enough.
Blueberry picking is a fine solitary occupation, but to me it's even more fun with company. I've taken my husband, my parents, my dear neighbor Doris, my friend Valerie and her girls. Last summer, I went with a DG friend I'd just met. We chatted as we picked, and we didn't leave until they closed the fields for the night. The next morning, both of us were enjoying the wonderful smell (and taste!) of freshly baked blueberry muffins.
If you're lucky enough to live in "blueberry country," don't just go to the store when the local harvest begins, usually in July. Keep an eye out for ads and signs, and ask around until you find a good U-pick operation. Pick more than you can eat that week. Extras can be made into jam or muffins or simply frozen (whole and unwashed). Save the last pack of frozen muffins for a grey day in January. The scent as they are warming will take you right back to that sun-drenched summer day... bliss!
Jill's Blueberry Muffins
Bake 20-25 minutes at 400' F
Cinnamon Sugar for sprinkling:
Everybody loves my blueberry muffins! My mom and I experimented years ago, during a week when blueberries were on sale. We started with the all purpose muffin recipe in our treasured copy of "Joy of Cooking," tweaking each batch until we'd reached blueberry heaven.
Two tricks contribute to a really good recipe. First, use at least double the amount of blueberries that most recipes call for. A great blueberry muffin should have just enough muffin batter to barely hold the blueberries together. Second, have a generous hand with the cinnamon sugar. The spicy crunch of the sugar on top of the muffin perfectly complements the warm sweetness of the blueberries.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease muffin tin, or line with cupcake papers.
Flouring the blueberries helps them stay suspended in the batter rather than sinking to the bottom of the muffin. Just toss the berries with a tablespoon or so of flour until lightly coated.
Sift dry ingredients together. (I use a 2-quart mixing bowl and a whisk to fluff rather than to sift.) Combine wet ingredients (I use a 2-cup measuring cup for this.) If you're making these for breakfast, you can mix up the wet and dry ingredients separately the night before. Store the wet ingredients in the refrigerator, and mix the batter just before baking.
Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix until just moistened, then fold in floured blueberries. Keep mixing to a minimum--a few lumps are fine. Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full. Sprinkle tops heavily with cinnamon sugar before baking for 20 to 25 minutes at 400° F.
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Run a knife around the edge of each muffin to release from pan. Serve immediately. I like them best when warm. They reheat well in the toaster oven or (briefly) in the microwave.
They also freeze well, if you'd prefer to make them ahead. I like to make these in a mini-loaf pan for freezing. Each of the 8 loaves are about equal to a muffin and a half, and ten of them fit nicely into a gallon zip-top bag.
If you're in the Frederick area, don't miss beautiful Glade Link Farms in Walkersville, MD.
To find a U-pick operation near you, go to this Go Gardening page and type in your zip code.
Thanks to my friend Terri (Aspenhill), for helping me get some fun photos last summer. I hope we'll pick blueberries together again this year!
Melody Rose's article on the history and culture of blueberries also has a wonderful recipe for blueberry vinegar.
Want to make blueberry jam? See Diana Wind's "Beginner's Guide to Jam and Jelly."
Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus.
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