Archive for the ‘Blueberries’ Category

Blues in the Night

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

bitn

 
Johnny Mercer was born 100 years ago tomorrow, on November 18, 1909. A statue of the lyricist will be unveiled in his hometown, Savannah Georgia, on his birthday.
 
Tributes have been going on all year and will continue, including my own show “Blues in the Night,” scheduled for Friday evening, November 20. (I may just have mentioned it before!)
 
Alice Parker and I named our program “Blues in the Night” after one of Mercer’s best known musical creations.
 
“Blues” made its debut in a 1941 Warner Bros. film that was named after the song as soon as the producers heard it and realized what a musical hit they had on their hands.
 
The film itself, which recently aired on Turner Classic Movies, is peculiar to say the least.
 
It recounts the adventures of a small group of jazz musicians, including the dour Richard Whorf, the future film director Elia Kazan, and the always over-the-top Jack Carson.
 
These tunesters roam around the country trying to make a living being true to themselves as artists by playing music that is authentically American and bluesy.
 
They are inspired while sitting in a jail cell after a fight with a bar patron who wanted them to play less exalted music.  As they ponder their future an African-American in a nearby cell (it’s a segregated jail) starts intoning,
 
My mama done tol’ me, when I was in knee highs,
My mama done tol’ me, “Son,
“A woman’ll sweet talk and give you the big eye,
“But when the sweet talkin’s done, a woman’s a two-face,
“A worrisome thing who’ll leave you to sing
“The Blues in the Night……”
 
The musicians immediately vow to run out and create the sort of authentic American folk jazz they have just heard.
 
Of course, one might think they would start by hiring the talented singer to whom they have just listened.  Instead, they team up with Priscilla Lane. She’s pretty, but she’s a musical lightweight. 
 
The film continues to defy expectations by throwing in assorted genres (it’s a musical, it’s a romance, it’s a gangster movie) and leaving plot lines dangling.
 
What looks like an incipient love interested between Lane and Whorf disappears. The rather pale musician who coughs a lot early in the film, who would end up dying of consumption in a normal Hollywood movie, loses his cough with no explanation.
 
The Bad Girl (Betty Field) who vamps half the male cast has about as much sex appeal as a flounder so the plot twists about her strong hold on men’s hearts and minds are rendered completely unbelievable. And so forth.
 
What shines in the movie–and haunts the soundtrack–is “Blues in the Night.” Happily, no one expected Priscilla Lane to sing this rather challenging song. It is repeated mostly instrumentally through the film, and it makes the story more moving than it would otherwise be.
 
Watching the film it was hard for me to believe that before it came out “Blues in the Night” didn’t exist. When they wrote it, Mercer and composer Harold Arlen created that rare thing, a song that sounds as though it has been around forever–as though it has sprung organically from ordinary people’s real lives.
 
More than the box cars and jail sets in which the actors pose, “Blues” evokes the material conditions of working Americans just coming out of the Great Depression.
 
And more than any emotions expressed by this not very exciting cast (the best actors are in minor roles) the song expresses love and loss, humor and pathos–the very soul of the blues.
 
It’s not really in my ideal repertoire. Like Priscilla Lane I’m a lightweight singer. But I can’t resist its siren call.
 
Please sing it tomorrow in honor of Johnny Mercer’s birthday. If you feel a little lightweight, here’s a recipe to give you some substance.
 
It was invented by Debra Kozikowski of Chicopee, Massachusetts. Deb is a political activist and blogger who has recently launched her own food blog, The Other Woman Cooks. She won a contest sponsored by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council with this blueberry barbecue sauce. 
 
Here’s the link to Deb’s original post. As you can see, she is an avid fan of picking your own berries in season, although she did tell me I could use frozen berries for this recipe!
 
Debby marinated pork or chicken in the sauce and then grilled the meat, basting with the sauce. My grilling season is over so I browned medallions of pork tenderloin and baked them in the barbecue sauce (and just a little water) at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, uncovering them for the last few minutes.
 
I think you could probably use the sauce interchangeably with regular barbecue sauce. Like “Blues in the Night” it combines sweetness and heat in surprising fashion.
 
sauceweb
 
Deb’s “Blues in the Night” Barbecue Sauce
 
Ingredients:

2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon chili powder (I made this heaping)
1 teaspoon black pepper (I ground about 15 times)
1/2 teaspoon salt (Deb didn’t include this, but I thought it enhanced the flavors)
1/2 cup water
 

Instructions:

Bring all the ingredients to a low boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened and chunky. Deb said this took 10 to 15 minutes; for me it took about 20 because when my frozen blueberries defrosted they were pretty wet.

Makes about 2 cups of sauce.

bluesporkweb

 

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Huckleberry Friendship Bars

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

huckbars web

 
After I published my Huckleberry Friend post about Johnny Mercer the other day one of my readers expressed her disappointment that I hadn’t included a huckleberry recipe.
 
Amazingly, I had been so busy expressing myself as a chanteuse that the cook part of me had failed to make that connection!
 
So I’m rectifying the omission here. Many thanks to Cathy for the idea. I hope the students and teachers at Huckleberry Hill School like these bars.
 
Since I didn’t have huckleberries on hand I made the bars with the huckleberry’s close cousin, the blueberry.
 
If your berries aren’t very juicy, you may want to add a little liquid (see the Gathered Blessings comment below) and/or reduce the amout of cornstarch.
 
Ingredients:
 
3 generous cups huckleberries or blueberries (you may use frozen ones, but defrost them before cooking!)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1/4 cup water
1-1/2 cups uncooked oatmeal
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) sweet butter
 
Instructions:
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with aluminum foil, and grease the foil.
 
In a saucepan combine the berries, sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla. Add the cornstarch paste and cook over low heat , stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Set it aside to cool.
 
In a medium bowl mix the dry ingredients and cut the butter into the mixture. Pat 3/4 of this crumb mixture into a the prepared baking dish. Add the fruit mixture. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs on top. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.
 
Cool the bars thoroughly before removing the foil and slicing. Makes from 16 to 32 bars, depending on your slicing skills.
 
Johnny Mercer looks for a good huckleberry recipe here (Savannah Morning News).

Johnny Mercer looks for a good huckleberry recipe (Savannah Morning News).

 

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Am I Blue?

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Blueberry Snap cut web

 
Nationally, July is blueberry month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Here in the hills of western Massachusetts, however, blueberry month falls in August.
 
I know that blueberries are a super food–all those antioxidants!–so I grudgingly eat the big ones in July. I bide my time, however, until the tiny, low-bush berries make their appearance a month later. Locally we find most of these in Heath. This town near my own Hawley is high in elevation and rich in good cooks.
 
Heath’s little blue pearls look prettier, taste sweeter, and freeze better than their jumbo counterparts.
 
For years neighbors just ate them, preserved them, and enjoyed them. Lately local food producers have been using Heath’s blueberries to make tasty, useful products. The Benson Place, a Heath grower, makes something called Wonderfully Wild (and it is!) Blueberry Spread.
 
Bart’s Homemade Ice Cream in Greenfield recently began a limited run of a new flavor called CISA Berry Local Blueberry Ice Cream. The company gets its berries from three Heath farms–the Benson Place, Tripp’s, and Burnt Hill. I asked Bart’s president Barbara Fingold about the origins of the project.
 
She reported that her husband and business partner, Gary Schaefer, is on the board of CISA, the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture. The organization is interested in making more durable products that use local crops, according to Barbara. In fact, she noted, the blueberry ice cream is “a prototype for future products made by Bart’s Homemade, as well as other local producers.”
 
CISA’s workers helped come up with the name of the ice cream and have assisted in publicizing it. A portion of all sales goes toward CISA’s work promoting local farms and farmers.
 
Barbara informed me that the company hopes to try making local peach ice cream soon. I can’t wait! Meanwhile, my family is savoring the current flavor. According to Barbara, its limited run will end in mid-September–or when the company runs out of the ice cream; she called the response “overwhelmingly positive.”
 
We can’t eat ice cream ALL the time, although some of us would like to–so here’s a simple coffee cake to add to your blueberry repertoire. Make it with large berries if you must, but the tiny ones will make it more delicious. It’s easy to bake and serve when you don’t have a lot of time or energy.  
 
Seasonal Heaven: CISA Berry Local Blueberry Ice Cream (with a few peaches!)

Seasonal Heaven: CISA Berry Local Blueberry Ice Cream (with a few peaches!)

 
 
 
Blueberry Snap
 
Ingredients:
 
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cups flour
1 cup milk
1 to 2 cups tiny blueberries
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds
 
Instructions:
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by9-inch baking pan. Cream together the butter and white sugar. Beat the eggs together and then beat them into the butter-sugar combination. Beat in the extract; then add the baking powder and salt.
 
Add the flour and the milk, alternately, to the butter-sugar-egg mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Fold in the berries.
 
Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish, and top it with the brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts (if you are using them). Bake for 50 minutes. Serves 9 (with big pieces) to 12 (with tiny pieces).
 
 
snap in pan web