Archive for the ‘Blueberries’ Category

Let’s Hear It for the Girls! Margaret Chase Smith’s Blueberry Muffins

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021

Last week I got my wild, low-bush blueberries from Heath, Massachusetts. I immediately thought of Senator Margaret Chase Smith.

In case the connection isn’t immediately apparent to readers, let me explain. Recently, my friend Peter Beck lent me a 1961 edition of the Congressional Club Cookbook.

I love the book’s cover with its image of an elephant and a donkey getting ready for a party. This copy was presented to Peter’s mother by Smith, who stayed with the Beck family from time to time and inscribed the book to her hostess.

I was intrigued. I knew Smith had been a senator for many years. I didn’t know until the cookbook inspired me to do a little research that this politician from Maine ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1964 … or that she was a notable promoter of foods from her home state.

Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995) grew up in a working-class family in Skowhegan, Me. Margaret Chase couldn’t afford college and held various jobs before going to work at a local weekly newspaper, one of several enterprises owned by a businessman named Clyde Smith.

More than two decades older than Chase, Smith dated her on and off for years; he was apparently quite a ladies’ man. The pair married in 1930.

Smith insisted that his bride give up working after they married so she could devote most of her time to acting as his hostess. Nevertheless, she remained active in a number of women’s organizations she had joined during her single years.

More than two decades older than his wife, Clyde Smith had political ambitions. He was elected to Congress in 1936. Margaret Chase Smith accompanied him to Washington and learned the ropes by working as his secretary.

When he became ill in 1940, he asked her to run for his seat in his stead. He died in April of that year. His wife won a special election to complete his term and then ran successfully for her own two-year term.

She stayed in the House of Representatives until 1948, when she was elected to the Senate. She would serve there until 1973.

Smith in 1963. Courtesy, Senate Historical Office.

In both branches of Congress, Smith was known for her support of the military, for her civility, for her care for her constituents, and for her independence. She didn’t always agree with her fellow Republicans, and she quietly but firmly made her views known.

Perhaps most famously, she delivered a 1950 speech called the “Declaration of Conscience” in which she lambasted the activities of her fellow senator, Joseph McCarthy. She was violently anti-communist, but she found the tactics of McCarthy and his red-baiting colleagues disgraceful.

“I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny—fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear,” she announced.

In 1964, Smith put her name forward as a Republican candidate for the presidency. Her chances weren’t strong. She didn’t get her name on the ballot in all 48 states, and she accepted no campaign contributions. An exception to the no-contribution rule was a gift from Peter’s father, a large bouquet of roses. “He thought she would make a great president,” Peter told me.

Although she lost to Barry Goldwater, Smith made history as the first woman to run for the presidential nomination of a major American political party. She even had a female-centered campaign song performed by Hildegarde called “Leave It to the Girls.”

Smith arrives at the 1964 Republican Convention. Courtesy, Senate Historical Office.

What does any of this have to do with blueberries?

Margaret Chase Smith actively promoted Maine’s foods by hosting events and sharing recipes. When she ran for president, her blueberry muffins played a part in her campaign.

One of her campaign photographs depicted her holding a sign that said, “Barry stews, Rocky pursues, Dicky brews, but Margaret Chase Smith wows and woos with Blueberry Muffins!” Her rivals were Goldwater, Nelson Rockefeller, and Richard Nixon.

The senator’s association with food is so strong that in 2018 the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine launched “Making Margaret,” a recipe-research collaborative.

Through this group, food-oriented students, faculty, and staff in different disciplines explore the connections between food and public life.

I was unable to talk to anyone in the group for this article. (It is, after all, the university’s summer vacation.) I hope to learn more about “Making Margaret” in the future, however.

I’m always interested in the ways in which food connects people. In the case of Margaret Chase Smith, food was a way to spread the word about her state.

According to her biographer Janann Sherman, it was also a way to reassure voters and her Congressional colleagues that this female—for years, the only woman in the Senate—didn’t represent a threat to the status quo because she was essentially “feminine.”

Her baking thus became form of self-protection as well as a form of self-expression, part of a dance she performed over and over again for her political audience.

The recipe below appeared in the “Congressional Club Cookbook” and was also sent to me by the Margaret Chase Library in the late senator’s hometown of Skowhegan.

The muffins are not unlike their original baker. They appear quite simple at first glance; they don’t contain a lot of sugar or butter, and they include no spice. Yet they are chock full of flavor. I highly recommend them.

Margaret Chase Smith circa 1940, courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Library

Margaret Chase Smith’s Blueberry Muffins

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) baking powder
1 egg
3/4 cup fresh milk
3 tablespoons melted shortening (I used butter)

Instructions:

Wash blueberries, and drain thoroughly. Mix and sift flour with salt, sugar, and baking powder. Beat egg and mix with milk. Stir egg and milk mixture into the flour mixture, then add the berries and melted shortening (or butter).

Mix well and pour into greased muffin pans, filling each three-fourths full. Bake in a hot oven, 400 degrees, for 20 minutes. Makes eight to 12 muffins depending on size.

Centennial Songs and Recipes

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Like most human beings, I like thinking about summer when snow is on the ground outside. So I started contemplating my summer concert this past January when the air was crisp and cold.

I knew that Leonard Bernstein had been born in 1918 and that I wanted to salute him in the concert, particularly because I knew that he had spent some time (well, one summer) down the road from my house, at Singing Brook Farm here in Hawley, Massachusetts.

Leonard Bernstein (center) at Singing Brook Farm in 1949 with his Sister and Brother

I also knew that my voice (which is just fine but not exceptional) wasn’t up for an all-Bernstein concert. It occurred to me that the concert might be expanded to cover a range of musical figures born in 1918.

I did a little research, and it turned out that quite a few American composers and singers came into the world that year: lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, of Lerner and Loewe; Patty Andrews, of the Andrews Sisters; singer/actress Pearl Bailey; crooner/actor Robert Preston, best known as the loveable con artist in The Music Man; and many more.

I wasn’t 100 percent I wanted to make 1918 the focus of my concert until I recalled that my late mother, Janice Hallett Weisblat, was also a 1918 baby.

Baby Janice with her Mother, Clara

Jan, whom I called Taffy, didn’t have a professional-quality voice. In fact, she lost much of her vocal range singing too hard while suffering from a cold one evening when I was a small child. Nevertheless, she adored music and used the range she had left to sing her heart out whenever possible. Singing a couple of her favorite songs seemed like a wonderful way to celebrate her centennial year.

My concert, called “A Century of Songs and Singers,” will take place next Saturday, August 25 (Bernstein’s birthday), at the Federated Church on Main Street (Route 2) in Charlemont, Massachusetts. I will be accompanied by Jerry Noble, a delightful person and musician.

Please join us if you’re in the neighborhood. If you can’t come to the concert, you might like to make a dish or two from 1918 babies, as I did this week on Mass Appeal. I made Pearl Bailey’s Corn Fritters and my mother’s Blueberry Sally Lunn.

The blueberry recipe appears elsewhere on this blog as Blueberry Snap. I share the corn recipe below, along with the videos in which I make the dishes.

Pearl Bailey

Pearlie Mae’s Corn Fritters

Pearl Bailey’s “cookbook,” Pearl’s Kitchen, is pretty vague about the proportions in this recipe so I had to more or less construct them myself. I recommend her book and her music nevertheless. Pearl’s Kitchen shows off its author’s remarkable spirit. She writes:

To cook is to share, and it is as important to me as walking onto the stage to full applause. Cooking is as crucial as anything I do in life, because I like to see the smiles on people’s faces when they enjoy something I have prepared. I cook as I live.

Amen.

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 cups lightly cooked corn kernels
butter as needed for frying

Instructions:

In a bowl combine the flour, the sugar, the baking powder, the salt, and the pepper. Make a well in the center of this mixture.

In another bowl or a measuring cup whisk together the milk and egg. Pour them into the dry ingredients, and mix. Stir in the corn kernels.

Put a pat of butter in a frying pan over medium-low heat. The butter should melt and begin to bubble but not burn. Pop in small scoops of the corn batter.

Fry on both sides. “Just let it bubble away until it browns, then turn it over,” said Pearl Bailey. Serves a crowd.

And now the videos:

Pearly Mae’s Corn Fritters

Taffy’s Blueberry Sally Lunn

Tarzan Was My Sous Chef

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

You Tarzan, Me Cook

This week on Mass Appeal I cooked lovely seasonal foods and had an unexpected helper.

One of the fun things about appearing on this lifestyle show is that I get to meet other guests, some of whom have become friends over the years.

On Tuesday the main other guests were members of the Berkshire Theatre Group in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, who came on the show to talk about their new production of the musical Tarzan.

A nice young man named Tim immediately came into the kitchen and offered to help me prepare my food, telling me that he loved to cook. I ALWAYS say yes when someone offers to help cook. Tim turned out to be the star of the show; he is playing Tarzan.

I hope to see him swing through the jungle next week. Meanwhile, although Tim was in training (Tarzan’s muscles have to be impressive) I managed to persuade him to nibble just a little. After all, no one should cook and then not be able to eat!

We made peach cobbler, rendered extra flavorful, and extra crunchy, with cornmeal. I am teaching an all-corn class at the Baker’s Pin in Northampton, Massachusetts, in a couple of weeks, and I have been pondering how to incorporate corn into a dessert since I always like to serve a full meal. Using cornmeal might be cheating—but it IS corn based!

We also made a lovely bright blueberry salsa.

Happy August!

Crunchy Peach Cobbler

Ingredients:

for the fruit base:

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 cups chopped peaches (or half peaches and half blueberries or raspberries)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, diced

for the cobbler crust:

3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 1-1/2-quart casserole dish.

Begin by making the base. Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a smallish nonreactive pot. Stir in the fruit and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil, stirring gently, for 1 minute. Remove the fruit from the heat and stir in the cinnamon. Spread the fruit in the prepared pan. Dot the top with butter.

To make the crust whisk together the flour, the cornmeal, the sugar, the baking powder, and the salt. Cut in the butter, but don’t overdo the process. You should still have tiny pieces of butter in the mixture.

Whisk together the milk, egg, and vanilla. Add them to the dry ingredients, and mix just until moist. Drop the resulting mixture onto the peaches, and spread it around to cover the fruit. Sprinkle brown sugar over all in little clumps. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Serves 8.

Blueberry Salsa

Ingredients:

2 cups blueberries
the juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon salt (more or less, to taste)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3 to 4 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
a handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

Instructions:

Chop or lightly crush about 1/2 cup of the blueberries. Stir them back into the remaining berries.

In a bowl stir together the lime juice and the salt. Stir in the pepper, the onion, and the cilantro; then add the berries.

Refrigerate the salsa for a couple of hours for maximum flavor. Serve with tortilla chips, over chicken or fish, or with crackers and cream cheese. Makes about 2 cups.

And now the videos…..

Crunchy Peach Cobbler

Blueberry Salsa

Blueberry Sugar-Top Muffins

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

muffsweb

These simple, super tasty muffins are best made with the tiny, low-bush blueberries we have locally in western Massachusetts at this time of year. I call them blue pearls and can’t get enough of them. As I have probably mentioned too many times on this blog, I find them smaller, sweeter, and more freezable than those clunky high-bush berries.

The recipe will work with any kind of blueberry, of course. If your berries are frozen, you will no doubt have to increase the baking time.

This muffin formula comes from a musical acquaintance of mine named Theresa Kubasak, who obtained it from a teaching nun named Gen Cassani. My nephew Michael wolfed down several of these muffins the morning I first baked them.

So of course I made them on Mass Appeal this week, where they were once again a hit. If you watch the video below (and I hope you do, if only to see my spectacular hat in its full glory!), you will have all the information you need by 6:15. I just kept the video rolling so you could see co-host Lauren Zenzie’s enthusiastic reaction to the muffins a couple of minutes later.

Happy blueberry weather!

blue hat wideweb

The Muffins

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
sanding sugar (or regular sugar if that’s all you have) as needed

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 18 muffin tins with cupcake/muffin liners. Melt the butter over low heat (or in a microwave oven), and set it aside.

In a medium bowl combine the dry ingredients. Place the blueberries in a smaller bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the dry mixture to the berries, and toss with a spoon.

Return to the dry ingredients. Stir in the milk and then the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the melted butter, followed by the floured berries. Use a cookie scoop or a tablespoon to fill the prepared muffin tins with batter. Sprinkle sugar on top.

Bake until the muffins begin to brown on top and have no wet batter in the middle, 20 to 25 minutes. Makes 18 small muffins.

And now, the video….

Blueberry Scones at the Leyden Café

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

Leyden sign

I know! I post a LOT of scone recipes.

If I had to choose only one pastry to eat for the rest of my life, it would be a scone. Scones include fruit (so they give the eater the illusion of eating vaguely healthily), they are easy to make, and they satisfy the eater … this eater, at any rate.

Of course, I don’t eat them all the time. I’m still on my nutritional cleanse. For a few days a month, however, I allow myself to stray. This month I strayed with a scone (and promptly gave away the rest of the batch!).

This particular recipe was inspired by Karyn Brown, a professional baker who is the culinary brain of the Leyden Café in Leyden, Massachusetts.

I first heard about the Leyden Café last summer as I stood in line waiting for posters at a local copy shop. A woman and her children stepped away from the counter with a brightly colored banner that read “The Leyden Café” in a lively font.

leyden logo web

I told the woman, who introduced herself as Amy St. Clair, that I was unaware that Leyden HAD a café. Leyden has more than twice as many people as my small town of Hawley, but that population doesn’t qualify it as a metropolis by any means. I was surprised to learn that it could support a café.

Amy explained that the café was a very part-time affair, started in the fall of 2014 by a group of townspeople that included her and her friend Robin Neipp. Their aim was to give Leyden’s residents a gathering place and a stronger sense of community.

The café is located on the lower level of the Leyden Town Hall. In general, Amy and Robin informed me, the café is open only once a week, currently on Sundays from 9 to 11:30 a.m. It also operates as needed at town meetings and events.

The Leyden Town Hall in better weather (courtesy of John Phelan)

The Leyden Town Hall in better weather (courtesy of John Phelan)

The café hosts special offerings from time to time, including a market day last fall featuring, in Robin’s words, “Leyden bounty and wares”; movie nights; pottery workshops; and concerts. February’s highlight will be a game night this Friday, the 19th, beginning at 6 p.m.

The café also offers collectibles, maple syrup, and local pottery for sale. Robin Neipp told me that the café regularly welcomes 16 to 20 visitors.

“We are hoping to establish a habit for residents to come to the café, utilize the space, create community events, and maybe someday somewhere somehow perhaps have a store,” she explained.

Meanwhile, she said, she and her colleagues have a lot of fun “reconnecting with and meeting new neighbors and solving world problems in [their] little space.”

Of course, they also enjoy Karyn Brown’s baked goods! Karyn graciously shared this scone recipe with me.

I have to admit that Karyn’s version of the scones is a bit different from mine, and her baked scones probably look much better than mine. She rolls out her scone dough. I am a less expert roller so I resorted to patting mine out.

As you can see, my version of the dough (decorated here with the berries) is a bit rough.

As you can see, my version of the dough (decorated here with the berries) is a bit rough.

She also manages to incorporate 1-1/2 cups of berries into her scones. I could only manage 1 cup. I added a little vanilla to make up for the lost flavor.

The scones were still delicious, denser and richer than my customary scone. My sister-in-law Leigh took one bite and said, “Wow.”

Karyn makes her scones with her own organic blueberries. Luckily, given the season, they are best prepared with frozen berries.

leyden sconeweb

The Scones

Ingredients:

2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar, plus additional sugar as needed just before baking
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold sweet butter, cut into cubes
3/4 cup heavy cream, plus additional cream as needed just before baking
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup frozen blueberries

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Process the 4 dry ingredients until mixed well in a food processor. Scatter the butter cubes evenly over the mixture and pulse until the butter is pea-sized. Place this mixture in a large bowl.

(If you don’t have a food processor, whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and cut or grate the butter into them).

Measure the cream into a liquid measuring cup; then add the egg yolks and vanilla and mix with a fork or small whisk until the yolks are incorporated.

Add the cream mixture to the dry ingredients and bring the dough together with a rubber spatula. Knead it a few times in the bowl, without working it too much, and pat into a smooth thick rectangle that is about 12 inches long.

Scatter the blueberries evenly over the dough, leaving about an inch border around the edge of your rectangle. Press the berries lightly into the dough.

Roll the dough up like a jelly roll, pressing it gently as you make each rotation and checking to make sure that the dough isn’t sticking; add more flour if it is. When the dough is rolled up, transfer it to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Let the roll sit in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes to firm up to make cutting the scones easier.

After chilling the dough, cut it into four pieces with a serrated knife using a gentle sawing motion. Cut each section in half on the diagonal.

Return the scones to the lined baking sheet, spacing them evenly. Brush the tops lightly with a small amount of cream; then sprinkle on a bit of sugar or some seasonal sprinkles.

Bake the scones until they are golden and set to the touch (about 25 minutes), rotating the pan halfway through the baking time.

I had no trouble getting the scones off the baking sheet, but if you have any trouble let them cool completely before removing them.

Leftovers will keep for a couple days, although these treats taste best the day they are baked. Makes 8 scones.

Cutting the scones

Cutting the scones