Blueberries in Season

Fourth of July, In Season, Ingredient
on June 29, 2011
iStock Photo

Although my husband and I have lived on Cape Cod for only three years, I spent all my summers here as a kid. One of the reasons we moved here is that I have golden childhood memories, undoubtedly better than my actual childhood, of swimming and sailing and spending all day, every day, outside in the sun, or even the rain.  

Some of those memories involved blueberries. They grow wild on Cape Cod, and it was a source of wonder to me that food grew in the woods, and anyone could simply pick it and bring it home.  

That’s why one of the first things I did when we bought our house and its two wooded acres was case the joint for blueberries.

On paper, our property is prime blueberry habitat. Sandy ground, mottled sun and shade, lots of pine needles to acidify the soil. We have the kind of waterfront that blueberries are supposed to love. So you can imagine my disappointment when a thorough search yielded just a handful of scraggly little bushes.  

That first year, come late summer, I watched those few bushes for any blueberries I could glean. And there were some. Two, maybe three. Total. It was a profound disappointment, but I somehow managed to reconcile myself to living in a blueberry-free-zone.  

Then, one day in August, our friend Linda came by. We went for a swim in the pond, and were enjoying a sunset glass of wine when she said, offhandedly, “That’s a nice blueberry bush you’ve got next to the garage. It’s huge.”

Huh?  A huge blueberry bush? Next to the garage? It couldn’t have sprung up overnight. But here it was, next to the garage—and it was 10 feet tall.

I’d missed it because my childhood blueberry experiences were all with the lowbush kind. When I went searching, I was looking down. I’d never knowingly laid eyes on a highbush blueberry, and didn’t recognize the one that was growing right there, next to the garage, even though it was 10 feet tall.  

Ten feet tall!  And although it didn’t yield much that first year, by early summer the second year we had a promising crop of green berries. I checked them daily, and when they began to ripen I covered the whole bush with a net. I’d heard that birds like blueberries almost as much as people do, and I wasn’t going to donate my crop to the avian cause.  

The net wasn’t completely successful.  Occasionally, a bird managed to get under it.  It always had trouble getting out, and would be trapped there, with nothing to eat but blueberries, until I managed to evict it. Still, there were blueberries left for us. Enough to experiment with, even.

After much cooking, eating, and deliberation, here are my blueberry Top 5:

1. Fresh off the bush, out of hand, in the sun.
2. In oatmeal – cooked with it, so the berries soften and bleed.
3. In a salad, with a salty cheese like feta, spicy greens, and a slightly sweet vinaigrette
4. You gotta have muffins!  
5. In a simple compote.  Put it on pancakes, waffles, or ice cream.  Stir it into yogurt.

Easiest Blueberry Compote

1 lb. fresh or frozen blueberries
2 T. maple syrup (or to taste, depending on how sweet your berries are)

Place berries and syrup in a pot over medium heat (frozen berries can go in as is; no need to defrost).  Cook until berries are completely soft and liquid begins to thicken, 10-20 minutes (depending on the water content of the berries). Will keep in the fridge for at least a week or longer.