Harvesting blues in the high bush
WHEN August fetches its magnificent dignity and grandeur to our favored state of Maine, I rejoice and go to see if my high-bush blueberries are showing color. Here and there I see blue, and that means I shall shortly attend the season's first Deacon's Blueberry Cake, whereat I toss my cap in the air and cry, ``Hooray for the deacon!'' Nobody knows who this deacon was, but he left us the finest recipe in the book. It does, however, need commentary, because a great many people don't know about good blueberries, and a lot of others think a cake is a cake. Then there are those who think huckleberries are good to eat.
Here in Maine the wild blueberry performs on a wide front. Our blueberries grow on blueberry barrens, and while they have pruning and cultivation by the growers, they remain the original wild, low-bush, blueberry. These blueberries are a big cash crop, and generations of Maine boys and girls earned their first money by ``raking'' blueberries for the canneries. Buy some of that blueberry muffin mix, and you can be pretty sure the blueberries included came from Down East Maine.
It is true that I have a row of high-bush blueberry bushes along the side of my garden, and it is true they produce heavily. These are ``cultivated,'' and they are a snare and a delusion. I think the high-bush blueberry is the poorest fruit in the catalog of fruits, although the skins do make good snowshoe bindings.
When viewed without bias in the company of a Maine wild blueberry, the high-bush kind will offer no explanation of why I grow the things. So, I do not approach that first Deacon's Blueberry Cake with such exuberant zeal just because my high-bush blueberries are beginning to show blue. They are merely a telltale, and they tell me it is time to do one of two things: 1.Go find a place where I can rake some wild ones. 2.Go buy some wild blueberries from a barren.
Because, you see, every year tons of wild Maine blueberries are shipped to high-bush blueberry growers to the south'ard who need their finer flavor for mixing. 'Tis so. With some wild ones to help, the tame ones become reasonably palatable.
I would not make a Deacon's Blueberry Cake from cultivated blueberries, any more than I would make a custard pie with pickles. Accordingly, I go and buy (or rake) some wild ones and add them fifty-fifty before I put my high-bushers in the freezer. When I come home with 25 or 30 pounds of wild blueberries, we have that first blueberry cake and cheer the deacon before I do any mixing.
A blueberry cake is not a cake, so to speak. It is a hot bread meant to be eaten with the meal. It is to be lovingly buttered. It is not, repeat not, sweet, as cakes are. Nor is it to be made rightly from cultivated blueberries.
The Deacon's Blueberry Cake 3 tablespoons sugar 1 egg, whisked lightly Butter the size of an egg (margarine is OK) 1 cup sweet milk (powdered is OK) Salt 1 teaspoon soda 2 teaspoons cream of tartar 2 cups blueberries (at least, and wild) 3 cups flour
Mix the sugar with the egg, melt the butter, and add all to the flour. You can swipe a smidgen of flour to dust the blueberries so they won't sink in the batter. A pan 8 by 12 inches is dandy, greased. Have your oven about 375 degrees F. and bake until browned - about a half hour.
There is, as far as I know, no good use for the high-bush blueberry alone and unassisted. He's a good looker, but I have, in the past, offered beautiful high-bush blueberries to the roadside trade, and people stop to admire them and ooh and ahh, and sometimes buy a basket beguiled. But I've never known anybody to come back for more.
But look - here are the ads in the paper: Rakers Wanted! My tame bushes have alerted me, and before I pick any, I'll go and find some wild ones and have a Deacon's Blueberry Cake. I tell people about the deacon, and they come around again and again to thank me for that - just as you will. Whoever he was, bless his heart!