Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wild Imaginations and Blueberries

My daughter and I have been berry picking twice recently thanks to the generosity of our friend, Kevin, who offered to give us all the blueberries we could pick from his property. Despite that day’s heat index of over 100 degrees, Deeds and I grabbed two pails and squeezed ourselves into Papa’s little 4-wheel drive Beemobile for the short trip “up the mountain” to Kevin’s farm. Now anyone from Mayodan knows there’s not a real mountain for miles around here, but if climbing an incline forces your vehicle to chug at a rate of 3000 RPM before it eases its effort, that’s either good enough to qualify as a “mountain” or you need to have your truck serviced...or both.

How did we fit in there?
Gardening and preserving said garden’s harvest is a summer-long family affair for us but we don’t grow blueberries. Quite truthfully, summers past have found us too busy with our own garden to accept such “U Pick” offers for free fruit and vegetables from our friends, so we’ve missed having fresh blueberries until this year. Deeds and I were simply beside ourselves with anticipation as we sped in the Beemobile past two particularly brazen farm dogs hell bent on biting our truck’s tires as we interloped on their patch of country road. We laughed as we banged our heads on the Beemobile’s rooftop when the truck’s tires found the deep ruts carved into the packed, red clay down by Kevin’s farm pond. Imagine our excitement once we entered a clearing and saw not blueberry bushes but something that much more resembled a grove of blueberry trees! Kevin’s berry bushes are ancient and beautifully wild.

Each with our own pail, Deeds and I lumbered out of the truck and agreed on who would pick where - she on one side of a row of bushes, me on the other. Our chatter quickly faded under the hot sun as we applied ourselves to the task at hand. Our intermittent exchanges dealt primarily with musing over where we’d last placed our water bottle or the precise nature of what either of us had just felt crawl across our feet while we stood knee-deep in a thicket in flip flops. Deeds gifted me with one of the best belly laughs I’ve enjoyed in a long time when she shrieked unintelligibly and bolted from the thicket swearing at an errant branch that tickled her arm, feeling ominously like a spider. We frequently wiped sweat from our brows and felt our shirts cling to our backs. We heard frogs splash in the nearby pond and listened to their throaty belches echo across the water. The sharp ping of blueberries hitting our pails’ bottoms soon turned into a soft patter as the fruit’s harvest deepened with our efforts. We tuned into the earth’s summertime song of buzzing insects, inquisitive birds and leaves rustling as an afternoon thunderstorm approached warning us to finish our work quickly. It was a hot, dirty job but more than worth the effort expended. Laboring in comfortable silence alongside my daughter was as good to me as the awesome cupcakes I baked later.

Blueberry Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream Frosting

For the cupcakes:
2 cups fresh blueberries, divided
1 ⅛ cups + 1 tsp sugar
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line muffin tin with foil or paper muffin sleeves.

Bring 1 cup blueberries and 1 tsp sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, mashing berries with spoon or potato masher. Cook until the berries have broken down and the mixture thickens, stirring frequently. Let cool to room temperature.

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk the eggs and remaining sugar together in a medium bowl until thick. Whisk in melted butter and oil until just combined. Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla until just combined. Fold egg mixture and remaining cup of blueberries into the flour mixture until just moistened. Batter should be lumpy so be careful not to overmix.

Divide batter equally across prepared muffin cups, filling each cup entirely. Spoon a scant teaspoonful of cooked blueberry mixture into the center of each cup of batter. Bake until golden and slightly firm, about 18 minutes.

For the frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 generous pinch salt.

Combine butter, sugar and salt, mixing well. Add lemon juice, zest and vanilla extract. Beat on high speed of electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Frost cooled blueberry cupcakes.

And finally, a haiku plucked on that day -

berry picking -
my daughter wishes
herself taller


  1. Sounds like some good sweaty bonding over blueberry bushes to me! We don't have neighbors with bushes and berries to share, but I am going to pick some up at the Farmer's Market and make these cupcakes! They sound delish!

    1. I was gifted one of the cupcakes cousin. They were awesome!

    2. Terri, the key to these cupcakes is the quick jam!

    3. I was lucky enough to have Deeds serve me one of the cup cake. What a treat! Please help yourselves to more blueberries.

  2. My deepest thanks to you and Deeds for sharing your blueberries with Alana and her dear ole pappy. :)

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love my neighborhood!

  3. Terri, you'll love the cupcakes. They were AMAZING. She topped the icing with three cute little blueberries on top to pull it all together. :)

  4. Blueberries are my absolute favorite fruit. Thank you, Susan for the cupcake recipe as I have only limited myself with baking muffins with lemon zest for the added zing. Love the idea of the frosting and blueberry jam. My thumbprint would be to add some chopped walnuts or pecans to the batter and/or the frosting for the additional crunch. Thanks again for taking us along for the ride...even if 'we' bumped 'our' heads on Melvin's Beemobile.

  5. My blueberries were finished a long time ago... then when I went out yesterday, I found one blueberry just ripening.... It must have bloomed late and set late because I had no indication there would be any more. I love blueberries... I never bother cooking them... just eat them off the bushes.

    I'm curious about the buttermilk. Around here you just can't get buttermilk anyplace... and when I tried to make it with a bit of vinegar or with lemon juice it just did not taste the same... didn't work as well in the recipe. In the summer time I used to love to just drink buttermilk by the glassful!

  6. Merrill, next time for a buttermilk substitute try using 1/2 sour cream to whatever volume your recipe requires...or greek yogurt?

  7. Sounds like a fantastic mother/daughter activity!

    Sitting on 40 pounds of blueberries myself, I'm pretty excited about the recipe, and I expect I'll give it a try soon.

    Love the idea of the little blueberry trio topper too!

    Nice haiku!

  8. This recipe sounds so good that I must try it, however, I do not promise to go out in 100% heat. Will probably go to the Farmer's Market.