Eyes bigger than the basket

Yesterday I went blueberry picking at a berry farm. It was drizzling on and off and therefore empty and very quiet. I picked and picked until my basket was full – slightly over 27 pounds!
Most of it went into the freezer for pies, cakes, crumbles, and smoothies. It makes up for my own meager harvest of black currants and gooseberries, which I blame partly on my negligent pruning last year, and partly to the chipmunks.

While I love blueberries I don’t care much for them in their raw state. Chilled blueberry soup, a specialty from northern Germany, is a favorite of mine and perfect on hot summer days. The recipe can be found in my cookbook Spoonfuls of Germany.

Blueberry Soup

Blueberry haven

Because we have a berry farm in the area where you can pick your own, I don’t bother growing blueberries. The place is perfectly organized: on peak days, such as around July 4th, one family member greets you with a walky-talky alerting a second person, who leads you to your assigned spot. This way you don’t have to pace up and down the rows looking for ripe blueberries. One year, I spent 1.5 hours picking from a couple of bushes and came home with almost 20 pounds of blueberries. After we all have our fill, most of the blueberries go right into the freezer.

Today I used the last bag of those blueberries for a Blueberry Corn Coffee Cake. The recipe is adapted from Deborah Madison’s Sweet Corn Coffee Cake with Berries in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Her recipe is based on an 8-inch springform pan but this one is for a 9-inch cake, therefore the amounts are a bit odd. If you use frozen blueberries like I did, bake the cake a few minutes longer, and if it browns too much on top, cover with a sheet of aluminum foil. Just make sure no ice crystals are clinging to the frozen berries, which might make the cake soggy.

Blueberry Corn Coffee Cake

7¼ ounces flour

3½ ounces yellow cornmeal

5 ounces sugar

2¼ teaspoons baking powder

1 1/8 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

6 ounces buttermilk

3½ ounces sour cream (reduced fat)

Finely grated zest of 1 untreated lemon

2¼ teaspoons vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2¾ ounces corn oil

2 cups blueberries

Light brown sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

2. Mix the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk buttermilk, sour cream, lemon zest, vanilla extract, eggs, and corn oil.

4. Mix the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients until well combined. I find that a silicone spatula works best, as you can scrape over the bottom and pick up any lumps.

5. Fill the dough into the prepared pan. Distribute the blueberries on top and gently press them into the dough. Sprinkle with brown sugar and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

6. Run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake from the pan and remove the rim. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Lists and leftovers

First I felt a little silly putting up a detailed list with the freezer content to keep track of each bag I take out. But this is not my personal listmania. It saves me from digging around and getting frostbite on my hands. This list, and whatever else needs to be used up, often dictates what I cook.

A quart of milk with a passed “sell by” date (even after living in the US for 13 years I still don’t understand how this date tells you the actual expiration date…), and several bags of frozen red currants inspired me to make this lemon trifle. I used a mix of blueberries and currants, but only blueberries, or a mix of blueberries and raspberries, will taste good as well. Instead of drizzling the ladyfingers with the usual sherry I used homemade black currant liqueur (cassis) but of course store-bought cassis will be just fine.

Berry Trifle with Lemon Custard

12 ladyfingers

3-4 tablespoons cassis

14 ounces fresh or frozen blueberries and/or red currants

3-4 tablespoons sugar, or to taste

Lemon custard:

2 organic lemons

4 cups milk (2% or whole milk)

4 egg yolks

¾ cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1. Cut the ladyfingers into 1-inch pieces and spread them in a decorative glass serving dish with a wide bottom. Drizzle with cassis.

2. Put the berries in a small saucepan and briefly cook so they pop and release their juices. Sugar to taste and cool slightly, then spread over the ladyfingers.

3. For the lemon custard, zest and juice the lemons. Slowly bring the milk and the lemon zest to a boil.

4. Mix the egg yolks with the sugar and the cornstarch to a smooth consistency without any lumps.

5. Strain the hot milk through a fine sieve. Discard the lemon zest.

6. Add a small amount of the hot milk to the egg yolks and whisk to incorporate. Add some more milk and whisk again. The mixing of the hot milk and egg yolks must be done very slowly and gradually so the eggs won’t curd.

7. After all the egg yolks and milk have been mixed, pour it in a saucepan and slowly bring to a gentle boil, whisking constantly.  Cook and whisk until the custard thickens.

8. Remove from the heat. Add the lemon juice and whisk until cooled slightly. Slowly pour the custard over the berries so that the layer won’t be disturbed and the berries won’t rise to the top. Cool.

9. Cover with plastic foil and chill several hours.

Makes 8 servings

Ice-cold resolution

Each time I make my berry frozen yogurt, I promise myself to use the ice-cream maker more often instead of lazily grabbing a pint of ice cream or sorbet in the store, which tastes overly sweet after eating this.

The most important ingredient is a good berry concentrate (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, red and/or black currants if you have them). I cook the fruit for a few minutes until they pop and release all their juices, then strain them through a fine sieve or cheesecloth.

It is important that all the ingredients are very well chilled before mixing them. Because homemade ice cream and frozen yogurt does not contain any stabilizer, it melts very quickly.

Berry Frozen Yogurt

1½ cups chilled unsweetened berry concentrate

½ cup heavy cream

2 cups sour cream

1 cup sugar

1. In a bowl mix all ingredients well with a wire whisk until sugar dissolves.

2. Process the frozen yogurt in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. I have an ice-cream maker whose bowl needs to be frozen so when it is warm in the kitchen, I carry the ice-cream maker down to the cooler basement. That prevents the bowl from warming up and improves the quality.

3. Fill frozen yogurt in plastic containers with tight lids and place them in the freezer until solidly frozen.

Makes 1 generous quart