On Cooking Southern: Fill the Freezer Now – July Is National Blueberry Month

SOUTHERNISM OF THE MONTH
Glow
: What Southern Belles do instead of sweating, as they gently blot their faces with lace-edged hankies and languidly move their hand fans back and forth in the church pews or on the front porch swing. I don’t know many glowing Belles this time of year.


Well, folks. Midsummer is here. It’s the time of year when even the most languorous Southern Belles pass the “glow” state and need to hydrate continuously.

This is that week of summer when we Mississippians who haven’t escaped to higher ground just hang our hat-covered heads and jump into the nearest legitimate body of water to cool down. Or in many instances, merely rinse away the body sweat with whatever sun-heated water happens to be available.

When we get out we never dry off because where the humidity ends, our bodily moisture begins. Even inanimate objects sweat during July in Mississippi. For example, every night, when I walk the dog, my lantern drips condensation as the outdoor heat collides with the air-conditioned metal and plastic.

As we say around here, you know it’s July when hot water comes out of both taps and the road asphalt has a liquid state.

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But there are benefits to be reaped from this annual hotter’n Hades season. In fact, my husband is thrilled that it’s July again. He says never mind the heat. Grab a clean towel and mop that sweaty brow. Brush away the bugs of the season, and forget the yammering political conventions.

July is National Blueberry Month. It’s the berries. For real.

Hubby swears by his blueberries, also known as the super food of the fruit world. Blueberries contain the highest antioxidant capacity of all commonly consumed fruits and veggies. A half-cup serving measures 30 calories and contains 23.5 percent of the recommended daily value for vitamin C, and 3 grams of dietary fiber. They are rich in anthocyanins that are thought to protect heart health and prevent cancer. They also are rich in polyphenols, known to delay vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s.

What’s not to love about those little berries, ranging in size from 5 to 16mm in diameter, depending on the variety?

Blueberries are native to North America. They are cousins to other berries such as huckleberries and bilberries, which also are blue. True blueberries, when cut in half, reveal a greenish flesh, while huckleberries and bilberries are blue throughout.

There are two primary types of blueberry species: The highbush blueberry and the lowbush blueberry. Highbush varieties grow upright and have been cultivated extensively since the turn of the 20th century. Some grow naturally in the northeastern United States and Canada. Others grow naturally from the Atlantic to the Gulf states.

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Lowbush varieties are found growing wild in dry areas and hillsides. The berries are smaller, but more intensely flavored than highbush varieties. The lowbush varieties have come to be known as “wild” blueberries, although cultivated almost as much as the highbush varieties.

Cultivars have been developed for almost every climate in North America and have been exported around the world. Blueberry farmers like to point out that growing them is counter-intuitive compared to normal farming practices. Blueberry plants prefer poor, highly acidic soil.

We have plenty of that in parts of Mississippi, where blueberries are abundant through this month. Check out Pontotoc Ridge Farms berries at the local farmers’ markets. Or go visit the pick-your-own berries at Nesbit Farm in Hernando.

Get as many fresh berries as you can afford and freeze what you don’t plan to eat or cook. Yum yum.

FREEZE BERRIES FOR FUTURE USE

The principle is simple: Do not wash fresh ripe-picked berries. Simply place in freezer bags and stick into the freezer – bag open –overnight. The next day, remove air from the bag and seal tight, then place back into the freezer.

NOTE: If your berries are damp or wet when you get them home, spread them out on a cookie sheet for several hours to allow the berries to dry. THEN freeze them as noted above.

When ready to use, remove berries from freezer and rinse. They are interchangeable with unfrozen berries.

BLUEBERRY INFUSED VINEGAR
Infused vinegar is terrific when concocting salad dressings and sauces. One may do this the old fashioned “fermenting” way by heating the vinegar just to the simmer stage and pour it over the infusion ingredients in a clean canning jar (berries, citrus peel, basil or mint, etc.). Store in a cool dark space for 2 weeks then strain the fermented liquid into a clean jar. Here’s the “quick-cooked” other method. Feel free to omit the sugar.

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1-1/2 c (about 1 pint) of ripe blueberries, picked clean, rinsed and drained
2 c white balsamic, rice or wine vinegar (I prefer balsamic, which is naturally sweet)
2 T white granulated sugar or agave syrup, optional

Place berries in a medium saucepan and lightly crush with a potato masher. Add the vinegar and optional sweetener. Bring to a simmer on medium heat, stirring regularly, and using a timer, simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool for a few minutes and transfer mixture to a clean canning jar. Allow mixture to sit, uncovered, for at least four hours. Cover with nonreactive lid and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, strain the mixture through a strainer and then strain it a second time through a coffee filter into another clean jar. Cover and store the vinegar in a cool, dark space. Yields about 2 cups.

BLUEBERRY COFFEE CAKE
I got this recipe from fellow NFL referee spouse, Wendy Carroll. The key to success in making this cake is to dredge the blueberries in flour before adding to the batter. This prevents them from sinking to the bottom. Two well-packed pint containers should provide the proper amount of blueberries.

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CAKE:
1 stick butter (1/2 c = 8 T), softened
2 c white granulated sugar
3 large eggs
3-1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 c whole milk or half and half
3-1/2 to 4 c blueberries, dredged in about 2 c flour

TOPPING:
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/3 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 stick butter (1/4 c = 4 T), softened

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and lightly flour a 10-inch tube pan. Mix topping ingredients together. Squish by hand to combine butter and dry ingredients completely. Set aside.

Pick through the blueberries to remove remaining stems, shriveled or moldy berries. Soak for 5 minutes in a bowl of water and drain, gently shaking to remove excess water. Gently pat with paper towels. Measure 1- to 1-1/2 c flour in a large bowl. Dump blueberries into the flour and gently toss to coat. Sprinkle with additional flour and toss again. Remove excess flour by turning dredged berries out into a sieve.

Cream together butter and sugar; mix in eggs one at a time. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to batter, alternately with milk. Fold in blueberries.

Pour batter into greased tube pan. Use spatula to smooth the top. Pinch pieces of topping and sprinkle evenly over top of batter, lightly punching down at intervals to encourage topping seeping into the cake. Bake on center rack of preheated oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes, until toothpick inserted in top comes out clean. (I set a timer.) Remove to a rack to cool for about 30-45 minutes. Gently separate cake from sides with a sharp knife. Shake to loosen from the bottom and turn out, flipping cake upright before positioning on cake plate.

For additional blueberry recipes shared in previous On Cooking Southern columns, check out the following story: On Cooking Southern: Feeling Blue.


Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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