Sunday, July 3, 2011

Celebrating the Fruit of Freedom

berries await our buckets!
We had been invited on many occasions to visit the country place of our friends Bob and Kelly, but it took until this Fourth of July weekend for other commitments and obligations to finally align and make the trip possible. The raison d'être for the journey was to pick blueberries. Bob, an avid horticulturist, has over the last fifteen years groomed their forty-acre Pike County, Mississippi farm into an Edenic escape from New Orleans. Included among the flora planted by his hand is a compact arbor of now-mature blueberry bushes.

The missus in the arbor
Blueberries, like strawberries, grow well from the deep South all the way into northern climes, but they are distinct varieties, so if you have fantasies of planting your own bushes, make sure your climate offers adequate hours of chilling for the plant in question. Southern berries are smaller than the nickle-sized variety that I once picked at a farm in the mountains when I worked at nearby Virginia Tech or the similarly plump fruit found on the bountiful Michigan crop. But they are very sweet.
our host at work

He explained to me as we stood plucking the fruit in the building morning heat that they are at variety of Southern Highbush Rabbiteye blueberry that require at least 350 hours of chilling for the fruit to set. There are types of blueberry that require fewer chilling hours and, as a consequence, can be planted further south - even in New Orleans. We've been seeing these berries at the Crescent City Farmer's Market since May. But it is July now, and we are picking away. A successful attorney in his weekday pursuits, Bob has a long list of clients and associates who look forward to sharing in his harvest.

The finished tart with a glaze made out of apple jelly
I decided to make a tart crust before leaving town and packed my bag with my rolling pin and tart pan for the trip to the farm. The crust is straight out of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, which my mom bought me when I went to grad school thirteen years ago, and remains my single-most favorite cookbook. My only exception to his instructions is that I find that warming up the dough and kneading it slightly after chilling makes for a better rolling experience. I'm not a pastry chef, so perhaps this technique is apostasy. I only know what works - and kneading until pliable works! It also seems to me that you can never use too much corn starch in your blueberry pie filling. The quarter cup that Bittman calls for isn't enough. A half cup is more like it. And with blueberry baking, cinnamon and a little lemon juice are your friend.

It was a fine weekend. Bob made a tasty chicken sauce piquant from Don Link's Real Cajun cookbook, and we followed it up with the tart. The only downer of the trip is that Greta, my faithful German Shorthair Pointer of nine years, once again has a sore paw after romping around the fields. The result of a chronic condition not unassociated with old age.

Refreshed, we drove back I-55 to town right in time for a friend's Fourth of July barbeque. Poor Greta is recuperating on the bed and dreaming of the bunnies she'll chase on our next visit.

"we could just move in, you know"

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