Monday, August 15, 2011

Blueberry picking

So we've been totally, insanely busy trying to get things organized for our wedding. We check one thing off the list and remember four more that we need to do.
However, I did take some time away from that on Saturday to go blueberry picking with friends. Five of us ladies went out past Fox to a patch that Fiona knows of. She was the only one with any wild blueberry picking experience to speak of, so the rest of us didn't know what to expect. The drive over was hilarious and we agreed that even if we didn't find any blueberries, the laughter from that mini-road trip was worth it.
It was such a rainy day, but the rain stopped about two minutes before we got to the site. So it was soggy, but not actually raining. (Note to self: I should get some Xtra Tufs for next year. My shoes were squelching by the time we were done. Also, it's insane for an Alaskan not to have a pair of Xtra Tufs. It's like not having Smartwool socks, which I was very thankful to be wearing. Thanks for the socks, Dravis! My feet were wet, but still warm.) Anyway, we pulled the car over and piled out into the mud, pulling hats low and zipping up jackets. Deciding to go up the hill rather than down turned out to be a great decision. We hadn't gone more than 20 feet into the brush before Hannah called, "Blueberries!" Ellie asked, "Are you...calling them?" The response: "No, I found some!" There were blueberries everywhere. And crowberries, and what I think were low-bush cranberries. But I wasn't sure enough of my identification to actually want to eat them. (Looking at pictures online, I'm fairly certain that's what they were. I could have doubled my berry haul if I'd picked them! Oh well.) The link for the crowberries explains them rather well: they're rather tasteless and generally used as "filler berries"--that is, to make the berries you want last a little longer you mix in crowberries. Making blueberry pie? Add in some crowberries and no one will know that it's not a pure blueberry pie. Since they're even higher in vitamin C than blueberries are, you'll even be doing yourself a favor. They have also been used by native peoples to help fix eye ailments and stomach problems. I only picked a few, but again I could have doubled or tripled my berry haul if I'd been less particular. I just wanted to focus on the blueberries. They are, after all, probably my favorite berry.
And oh my goodness were there plenty of blueberries! With five of us picking, we gathered quite a few, but could have gotten way more if we'd been willing to stay out there for more than two hours. (Fiona mentioned going out there every day this week, so maybe I can manage to get out there again. And if not with Fiona, Ellie certainly wouldn't mind another trip!) I had big yogurt containers that I've been saving to use for my plant starts next spring (I think the individual cups are too small, so next year I'm going with the big ones) and they worked just as well for berry containers. I was glad I had the lids, too, or I would have dumped them out several times! I managed to fill 1 1/2. Other women had saved the plastic ice cream buckets with handles and those worked well, too.
The tundra was nice and thick with mosses, so the ground was soft to kneel on. (I ended up wet through all the way up to my thighs.) And with all the rain we've had lately, the berries were big (for wild berries) and sweetly juicy. Mmmm! We talked a lot, of course, partly to pass the time and partly as a defense against bears. The real danger is surprising one and making it defensive. If they know you're there they'll avoid you. So we chatted, about marriage (Hannah kept asking us three married/almost married ladies questions about when we knew they were the one for us, how we met, how they proposed, etc.), about how much fun we were having (Fiona's comment was, "This might sound sexist, but I can totally understand why women used to leave the men at home to come berry picking with each other. It's so relaxing and enjoyable!"), and how many berries we were getting. Exclamations over particularly large berries, or a great patch of them, were inevitable. I finally asked everyone what their plans for the berries were. A lot of people said freezing some, but there was also talk of jam and pies if there were enough berries.
I decided that most of them would get frozen, but I also wanted to make something with the fresh berries. My brilliant idea: blueberry pancakes with blueberry sauce on top! The cat woke me up on Sunday morning ("Mom! Moooom, I'm out of food! Mom, feed me breakfast!") so I got up and started making breakfast for everyone. I used Alton Brown's pancake recipe, which is one of my favorite from-scratch recipes. (Just the right mix of sweetness and savoriness, and really easy to throw together.) I added the blueberries while the pancakes were already on the griddle so that I could be sure each pancake had a lot of berries in it.

For the sauce I dumped some of the washed blueberries into a pot (I didn't measure) and started mushing them with a fork. Then I added some water, some vanilla and a tablespoon of sugar, and turned on the heat. I added a bit of cornstarch later to thicken it up. Shane's comment about the sauce was that it was "Weird. I can't tell if it's good weird or bad weird." I mentioned the vanilla and he said, "I think that's what's throwing me off, I didn't expect it." Well, I really enjoyed it. I smothered my pancakes in this sauce. So good! We both had blue mouths after breakfast. All of this used up the half container of blueberries, so the others are now sitting in my freezer. It'll be good to use them like this again during the winter and remind ourselves of summer's sweetness. It's fleeting around here, we need to make it last.

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