"It's a tsunami of blue out there."
That's the first thing John Cuddy said to us when we got out of the car last weekend at his Rush River Produce in Maiden Rock, Wis. Cuddy doesn't seem to be a man prone to exaggeration, so he's not kidding when he says that this year's blueberry crop appears to be one for the record books.
I've been visiting this nothing-else-like-it U-pick destination for more than a decade, and I've never witnessed anything that comes close to the abundance of this summer's output. To say that the farm's 10,000-plus plants are heavy with fruit is an understatement.
This summer is also unusual in that the crop is maturing on a stepped-up schedule.
"In 25 years, I've never seen so many berries, so early," said Terry Cuddy, John's spouse and fellow blueberry enthusiast. Again, she's not overselling. She directed me down to the rows of Nelson berries (a variety after my own heart), which usually mature in early August. Last weekend, many Nelson berries were already starting to turn blue.
Yes, the picking has never been easier at the Cuddys' strikingly picturesque farm, where colorful, well-tended flower gardens give way to neat rows of bushes ("We've got nine miles of blueberries," is the farm's party line) cascading down rolling hills and melding into spectacular Rush River valley views. The abundance means that pickers don't have to go to too much effort to get their fill; with very little effort, three of us filled two boxes (one of them is pictured, top) in less than an hour, roughly seven pounds of summer treasure.
The Cuddys cultivate more than a dozen northern blueberry varieties, which translates into berries of varying sizes and flavors. They also have a small side business in currants (red, black and white) and gooseberries.
The farm is roughly 70 miles southeast of the Twin Cities, and is open Thursday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Although the place is brimming over with berries, it's still best to call ahead and check on availability: 715-594-3648. Cost is $4.50 per pound (or $9 per pound for pre-picked berries), cash or check.
Pack a picnic lunch, or, if it's Friday, Saturday or Sunday, stop into Maiden Rock and enjoy inexpensive sandwiches or quiche on the front porch at the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop (one note: cash only). Don't miss a slice of one of baker Sandra Thielman's extraordinary pies. We made quick work of a fantastic buttermilk-lemon pie topped with blackberries and some of the farm's blueberries (pictured, below); my only regret of an otherwise perfect day is that we didn't buy a second slice.
Once we got all those blueberries home (the gentle scent that filled the car was semi-intoxicating), I wondered if we'd gone a little overboard. But after handing out a few stashes to friends, I picked up a box of quart-sized freezer bags and jumped into the freezing process.
It's easy. The first step is filling a small baking tray with a single layer of berries -- and taking a few moments to weed out the duds -- and freezing them for at least an hour, enough time to transform them into cold marbles.
It's a time-consuming and slightly awkward process -- fortunately, I've got a jelly roll pan that just squeezes within the confines of our side-by-side freezer. But in the end, it's better to take the extra step than simply freezing fresh berries by the bag; the berries won't be stuck together. I choose quart bags vs. gallon bags for a reason; it's more convenient to thaw only what's needed, and who ever needs an entire gallon of blueberries?
The fruits of our labors yielded 14 quart-sized bags, minus all the snacking (and baking, see below) that we did prior to filling the freezer. Not bad for 45 minutes work.
I did manage to set aside a few fresh berries for some weekend baking. This coffee cake went fast.
Judging from its popularity, I'll be making this recipe for months. It's a good thing I've got all those berries in the freezer.
EASY BLUEBERRY-PECAN COFFEE CAKE
Serves 12 to 16.
3 c. flour, plus extra for pan
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
Freshly grated zest from 1 lemon
12 tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pan
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. sour cream
1 1/2 c. blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 c. chopped pecans
3 tbsp. ground cinnamon
3 tbsp. sugar
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) melted butter
To prepare cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour bottom and sides of a 9- x 13-inch pan. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and lemon zest and reserve. In bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour in thirds, alternating with sour cream and mixing until just combined; do not overmix. Gently fold in blueberries. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan.
To prepare topping: Sprinkle pecans evenly over top of batter. In a small bowl, combine cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle mixture over top of pecans. Evenly pour melted butter over top of cake, then run a knife through batter to allow butter to run down into cake. Bake until top is lightly browned and springs back from a light touch, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
By Lee Svitak Dean
If you've got a taste for Scandinavian food and beautiful photographs, "The Scandinavian Cookbook" is for you. The author is Trina Hahnemann (pictured below) of Denmark, where she is a well-known chef and author who appears on TV. See her talk about her book here. Trina sees no reason that "rodgrod med flode" should not be as popular a dessert as tiramisu all over the world. And that's true for many other of the Scandinavian specialties.
On Wednesday, Sept. 23, Trina will be at Magers and Quinn Booksellers (3038 Hennepin Av. S., Minneapolis; 612-822-4611) at 7:30 p.m. to talk about her new book, which she has divided into recipes for each month. The photos are stunning and take the reader all over Scandinavia -- and into the kitchen with many of the recipes shown in full color. Some recipes are standards -- gravlax, for example -- but the range of recipes is broad and very do-able for home cooks.
Here are two recipes for September from her book.
CHANTERELLE, BACON AND
PLUM SALAD WITH BLUE CHEESE
Note: Chanterelles are ruined if you wash them in water; brushing them clean is a lot of work, but worth the effort.
1/2 pound bacon, cubed
1/2 pound chanterelle mushrooms
1 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
10 red or green plums, pitted and cut into wedges
6 cups mixed lettuce leaves
4 1/2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Cook the bacon until golden in a skillet. Drain on a paper towel.
Use a dry brush to clean the chanterelles, then pan-fry them for 5 minutes in 1 tablespoon olive oil.
To make the dressing: Mix the balsamic vinegar and sugar together in a small bowl, then whisk in 2 tablespooons olive oil until the mixture has emulsified (this will take a while as there is more vinegar than oil).
Just before serving, combine the bacon, mushrooms, plums and lettuce in a serving bowl. Pour the dressing over and toss gently Add the blue cheese but do not toss the salad any more because it easily turns mushy.
WALNUTS IN WINE
Makes 1 1/2 cups.
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup dessert wine, port, sherry, or red or white wine
1 1/2 cups shelled walnuts
Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the wine and continue simmering for about 10 minutes, stirring occasinoally, until the mixture develops a syrupy consistency.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, boil the walnuts in a generous amount of water for 1 minute, then drain. Mix the syrup and walnuts together and store in a sterilized jar until serving. Kept in the refrigerator, they can last for up to a month.
Blueberry season means Blueberry-Lemon Sour Cream Cake.
Blueberry-Lemon Sour Cream cake, cooling on the counter.
By Rick Nelson
True confessions: I would probably never bake this cake at a cabin (although never say "never," right?), because it requires a food processor and an electric mixer, and it leaves a clean-up in its wake that is best dispatched with a dishwasher.
I would, however, bake this cake at home the day before leaving for the cabin, as I did last weekend. Why? For starters, it travels well; just stick it on a plate, cover it with plastic wrap and carry it to the car. But the main reason is that it's one of those cakes that actually tastes better the day after it's baked. Who knows why? Maybe it's the moist factor; there's a heck of a lot of butter and sour cream in it, and the four eggs don't hurt. Looks-wise, it also makes a pretty impressive first impression. Oh, and it tastes even better than it looks.
This cake has been in my baking repertoire for about five or six years, and I almost always whip one up after I've been blueberry picking at the spectacular Rush River Produce in Maiden Rock, Wis. I haven't made it down to that part of Lake Pepin yet this summer, but when I spied the beautiful blueberries at the Country Lane Farm stand last week at the University of Minnesota Farmers Market, I knew that I'd be buying sour cream.
Straight out of the oven.
Don't let the fussy directions turn you off. It's Cook's Illustrated, so nothing is left to chance. Just read them through a few times before getting started. It's actually a very simple process. Believe me, when you show up at the cabin with this cake in your hands, you'll be popular.
BLUEBERRY-LEMON SOUR CREAM CAKE
Serves 12 to 16.
Note: A tube pan (also known as an angel food cake pan) works best. If using a tube pan with a removable bottom, set pan on a large sheet of foil, then fold foil up around sides of pan before filling it with batter. From "Here in America's Test Kitchen" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen, $29.95).
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar, divided
2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
2 tbsp. unsalted butter , cold, cut into 2 pieces
1 c. pecans , chopped
1 c. fresh blueberries
1 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
12 tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 2 tablespoons softened butter for greasing pan
1 1/2 c. sour cream, divided
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 1/4 c. flour
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
To prepare streusel: You will be preparing two streusel toppings. In food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine flour, sugar, 1/4 cup dark brown sugar and cinnamon and process until combined, about 15 seconds. Transfer 1 1/4 cups of flour/sugar mixture to small bowl and stir in remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, then set aside to use as one of the streusel fillings. Add butter and pecans to mixture remaining in food processor; pulse until nuts and butter resemble small pebbly pieces, about ten 1-second pulses. Set aside to use as the second streusel (which will serve as a topping). In a small bowl, gently combine blueberries and lemon zest and reserve.
To prepare cake batter: Adjust oven rack to lowest position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 10-inch tube pan with 2 tablespoons softened butter. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, 1 cup sour cream and vanilla extract until combined. In a medium bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add butter and remaining 1/2 cup sour cream; mix on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened and mixture resembles wet sand, with few large butter pieces remaining, about 1 1/2 minutes. Increase to medium speed and beat until batter comes together, about 10 seconds; scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Lower speed to medium-low and gradually add egg mixture in 3 additions, beating for 20 seconds after each and scraping down sides of bowl. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until batter is light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
To prepare cake: Using rubber spatula, spread 2 cups batter in bottom of prepared pan, smoothing surface. Sprinkle evenly with 3/4 cup streusel filling (without butter or nuts) and sprinkle 1/2 cup blueberries over streusel. Repeat with another 2 cups batter and remaining 3/4 cup streusel filling (without butter or nuts) and remaining 1/2 cup blueberries. Spread remaining batter over, then sprinkle with streusel topping (with butter and nuts). Bake until cake feels firm to touch and long toothpick or skewer inserted into center comes out clean (bits of sugar from streusel may cling to tester), 50 to 60 minutes. Remove cake from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rimmed baking sheet (cake will be streusel-side down); remove tube pan, place wire rack on top of cake, and reinvert cake streusel-side up. Cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Cut into wedges and serve. Cake can be wrapped in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and stored at room temperature for up to 5 days.
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