Blueberries

Posted by Robert on June 4th, 2013


“You ought to have seen what I saw on my way 

To the village, through Mortenson’s pasture today: 

Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb, 

Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum 

In the cavernous pail of the first one to come! 

And all ripe together, not some of them green 

And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!” –Robert Frost

 

Yesterday I had a flashback. I was walking through my friend, Tim Goggans’, 40-acres of blueberries. It reminded me of walking among grape orchards in Napa or the olive groves of Italy.

It was about an hour after sunrise and dew still covered the berries. There was a slight mist in the distance and the atmospheric haze was just starting to clear. It felt like a cool Tuscan morning or an early Napa dawn. A group of workers were sitting on coolers and ice chests on the edge of the field, waiting for the sun to dry the dew off of the berries so they could be picked.

Standing there, among the rows, it struck me that that blueberries are probably the heartiest crop in South Mississippi. They grow in many other parts of the country, but they proliferate here.

Sure we have climate and soil conditions that can grow several vegetables and fruits, but they don’t thrive like blueberries. It never cools down during our summer nights and that keeps us from growing many items later in the year. Most fruits and vegetables need cool evenings to recover from the day’s stifling heat. Blueberries could care less— humid mornings, hot nights, bring ‘em on.

The main weather deterrent with blueberries is a late freeze. Once the bushes begin to bloom, a hard freeze will devastate the crop. Supposedly this will be a “down year” for blueberries, due to the late cold spells we experienced several months ago. Though walking among Goggans’ rows, the bushes were loaded with berries.

As Goggans and I walked down the manicured rows among the blueberries he described the different varieties and the characteristics of each. The life of a blueberry farmer is hectic this time of year. There is usually a six to seven-week window when all of the harvest work needs to be done. If the berries aren’t picked at the exact height of ripeness, it is over for the year.

His operation, Sandy Run Farms, ships to a local co-operative, but, lucky for us, he offers a u-pick ‘em opportunity to the general public. They also sell picked blueberries for those who aren’t interested in picking the berries themselves.

Blueberries are grown from Maine to Oregon, yet the South Mississippi acidic soil is perfect for growing blueberries. Raspberries can’t grow in the height of South Mississippi summers, but blueberries thrive, blackberries, too.

Goggans will pick 5,000 pounds an acre or over 200,000 pounds of blueberries this year.

Blueberries frequently top the list of the world’s healthiest foods as they have more antioxidants than any other fruit and many believe they can help prevent damage caused by heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. They are low in fat and sodium, and are one of the only natural foods that are blue in color.

Goggans grows two different varieties of blackberries and four varieties of blueberries. If one hangs around blueberry farmers long enough you’ll be well versed in terms such as Rabbit Eye and Southern High Bush. The varieties of blueberries grown locally at Sandy Run Farms are Brightwell, Climax, Alapaha, Powder Blue, and Premeire. Multiple varieties of blueberries are needed for cross-pollination. The Brightwell is Goggans’ favorite.

After an hour the dew had dried. The sun was higher in the sky and the humidity knob had been turned to high. It no longer felt like Napa or Tuscany. I was, once again, in the middle of a South Mississippi summer. There was no dew, it was hot and humid. The blueberry pickers were beginning to stir. I was headed to my truck and off to the comparative comfort of a 90-degree restaurant kitchen.

I drove away and left Goggans to his 200,000 pounds of blueberries. But not before purchasing a flat of berries. I plan to visit often over the next six weeks as these blueberries seem to be sweeter than most. I’ll pick up a few flats for the restaurants and before it’s over, I might even pick a few myself.

 

Blueberry-Peach Shortcake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbl sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 Tbl baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), diced
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup heavy cream, chilled

1/4 cup sour cream

1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash

1/4 cup sugar
4-5 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1 Tbl fresh lemon juice

1 pint blueberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Sift the flour, 2 tablespoon sugar, the baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Blend in the butter at the lowest speed and mix until the butter is the size of peas. Combine the eggs, heavy cream, sour cream and vanilla extract and quickly add to the flour and butter
mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough will be sticky.

Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Flour your hands and pat the dough out 3/4-inch thick. You should see lumps of butter in the dough.

Cut biscuits with a 2 3/4-inch cutter and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Brush the tops with the egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outsides are crisp and the insides are fully baked. Let cool on a wire rack.

While the biscuits are baking, combine the 1/4 cup of sugar with the sliced peaches and lemon juice. Refrigerate until needed.

Split each shortcake in half crosswise and place the bottom half on a plate. Place a small amount of the peach mixture atop each biscuit bottom. Place one scoop of ice cream on the peaches and spoon the remaining peaches over the ice cream. Place the biscuit top over the filled bottom half and sprinkle each shortcake with 2-3 tablespoons of fresh blueberries, serve immediately.

Yield: 6-8 servings


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