Blueberries, Romance and Scones

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(Photo by Kathy Achelpohl)

The blueberries grabbed my attention again this summer……..maybe because they go on sale and are so abundant, but most likely because they are on my mind a little more this year. At the very back of our yard where we had done some re-grading in the spring, I planted several varieties of blueberry bushes. We have a wonderful raspberry patch and I am hoping to repeat its success with those dark summer wonders……even if I have to wait several years to see any results. I’ll just keep buying the gems in big quantity when they are in season until I can harvest some of my own (probably along with the birds). This year’s haul of blueberries from the market made me think about a picture taken many years ago that still makes me crave blueberries when ever I think about it.  I came across it recently while scanning (digitizing) the many slides we have from before and earlier in our marriage.

But first a little context for the photo; Kathy and I actually dated when we first met. It was the early eighties, things were changing, but it is not like I’ve had it described to me about how “dating” works today. Much less commitment these days my daughter tells me, hang out together, with others, then maybe something more, but much less formal than in my day.

First meeting informally at a student meeting where I cleverly managed to obtain her telephone number and then again more formally through a friend, Kathy and I talked and probably flirted for what seemed like weeks and weeks before I felt comfortable asking her out on an official “date”…….I know, I know, a little timid, but I suppose I wanted to know for sure that she wouldn’t say no.

Our very first date was a movie and dinner afterward. My Dinner with Andre was the movie. I guess I wanted to impress her with my sense of intelligence. Our dinner afterwards, without Andre Gregory and Wallace Shaw, was at a casual Italian place in Lawrence, Kansas called Campus Hideaway, now long gone. While it was not quite Café des Artistes, the famous New York City spot for intelligentsia on the upper west side of Manhattan that was the setting of the movie, Campus Hideaway had checkered table cloths and the sort of atmosphere that allowed for quiet conversation. I do have to admit to a tediousness as the evening went on, not because of Kathy, but because by the time the evening was over, we felt like we had been at dinner for way too long! The “date” must have impressed her enough though……..she agreed to a second.

Our next date was to a jazz place in Kansas City, which involved me borrowing my roommate’s car for the seventy mile round trip drive from Lawrence, which my VW Beetle could not predictably complete. The only problem with my roommate’s car was it wouldn’t go in reverse. (I could wax about the symbolism of this, but won’t). I remember thinking at the time, the car not going in reverse was completely normal (or believable), we were just poor college students and that was how things went sometimes. I was careful where I parked and we made it back to Lawrence intact with some sort of thing starting to happen, shall I say a possible romance…….I know I was feeling it.

A few weeks later, I took Kathy on a picnic. I had been away for almost a week before and remember thinking about how much I looked forward to seeing her. We had only known each other a short time, but I was clearly head over heels by this point, even with the knowledge that she didn’t, or couldn’t, or wouldn’t, even dare think about preparing us a meal. I hadn’t really known in detail about her cooking “non-interests”, but only that I would need to provide our sustenance for the picnic. I grew to learn she clearly had the capability to cook, but she was just never really interested in the task, always leaving it to me to make meals work. I think it dates back to her childhood with three sisters all assigned to help in the house in different ways……or that is what she says.

We laugh about that picnic to this day, or Kathy does. It was not exactly one of the high points of my cooking life. I couldn’t help it if I came from a white bread family! We were in the last years of our undergraduate work and the menu was not, how should I say it? Fancy? Sandwiches with chips, maybe some fruit……I may have sprung for some wine, I don’t remember. What I do remember is that rudimentary picnic, and my preparation, was what all meals should be at a minimum, nurturing and sustaining. Kathy was beautiful, talented, smart, funny, interesting, and could have had any guy on campus, but for some reason she was “dating” me.

My cooking life didn’t begin beside that lake at that picnic over thirty years ago, but it did set the stage in many ways for what would follow. All durable couples are a team. I cooked, sort of…….and was rewarded with our first kiss on that picnic. If she didn’t want to cook, the least I could do is make her a meal. It worked and she married me.

Kathy took the picture above. It was a breakfast on our honeymoon in Nantucket a few years after that picnic. It is the first picture of ours I remember where the subject was food. Blueberry pancakes…….she was taking a roll of pictures of things that were blue. We were trying to be artists! (note that I said a “roll” of pictures…..my how times are different). I still make blueberry pancakes as I had them that morning……with so many berries, it seems hardly a pancake!

Romance aside……..what about all the blueberries this year?

In July and August, the blueberries are everywhere here at the markets and the groceries. My favorite warehouse store even had them in the epic quantities you would expect. Our wonderful neighbor across the street went picking blueberries and blackberries……….her jam from that labor was devine. This year’s summer blueberries have made their way into numerous things, beside just a bowl of ice cream. Pie, pastries, juiced, even dried ones in salads. Check out some of the recipes, here for blueberry pie and here for a great beet and dried blueberry salad.

I’ve been making batches of blueberry scones every time I am tempted by a pint of blueberries for less than a buck. Prior to baking them off, I freeze them for a few hours on the sheet pan and then vacuum seal them individually for baking at a future date. Nothing like a warm scone in the morning before work! Coffee pot on…check, Oven on…….check.

I recently bought several small bags of dried blueberries that made me think of past vacations to northern Michigan to escape the late summer heat and humidity of Kansas City. I’ve added these to a number of recipes, including my blueberry scones, where they add a depth of blueberry richness.

Kathy is the real aficionado of scones in our household.  She went to school for a year in Scotland and spent some time in Ireland, developing an affinity for scones and other hearty breads while there.  Her favorite scone is almond, which I can make anytime of year but she has never turned her nose up at any variety I have made……….and she always enjoys blueberry.

Scones are really simple to make, and one my favorite things is preparing a batch and freezing them individually for later baking. There is no real drop off in results and as I said above, it is great to fill the house with the smell of baked goods before work (especially on a Monday!).

Scones are a cousin of southern biscuits (probably vice versa in the timeline of things) and as such many of the rules for making good biscuits apply to scones. There is a wonderful article comparing the two by Natalia V. Osipova in the NY Times in  late February of 2014 . The major differences she notes between the two, besides the shape, is that with scones, at least sweet versions, is the addition of sugar and an egg.  I’ve always found the addition of an egg to the basic scone recipe varies widely.  I prepare them both ways depending on the recipe or a feeling for the texture and other ingredients that may be present.

In general, without the egg you have a flakier result that if not over worked is ethereal. Using the egg makes for a little more “cake like” result that is also a little more forgiving if there are lots of ingredients folded into the base mixture……but I am not really a baker. Try it both ways, see what your prefer.  If you use and egg, scramble it with the wet ingredients prior to adding to the flour mixture.

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The ingredients for the blueberry scones are pretty straight forward. The key is to keep things cool and don’t over mix. I use buttermilk in my blueberry scones, whole milk or half and half or a mixture of both would fine too.

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I can’t remember where I read about this, but one little trick I have been utilizing recently in recipes that have citrus zest is to increase the flavor by mashing it with a little sugar or salt (as an abrasive) to bring out the natural oils. The results will surprise you.

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I cut the butter and freeze it prior to mixing it with the dry ingredients. Remember the refrigerator is your friend! Put the mix in the frig if you feel like it is getting two warm. I use an old-fashioned pastry blender to mix the butter into the dry ingredients rather than a food processor. Butter blended down to about pea or bean size is perfect.

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I then add the fresh and dried berries.

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I then mix in the buttermilk, at first only adding about three quarters of what is called for in the recipe, adding the remainder a little at a time while I mix in the berries gently.  Oddly, you just barely need to mix it. REALLY, I mean you should stop when you think the flour is about three quarters hydrated………a basic loose mixture that really won’t hold together when you dump it onto a floured board is the perfect consistency.

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Pour the shaggy mixture out onto the board, flour your hands, and pull together this loose mixture into a square about six inches on each side and about an inch or slightly thicker. I think the thicker the unbaked scone the better the results.

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I cut the square into quarters with a pastry scraper and then divide each quarter diagonally.

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Placed on a lined sheet pan, a little heavy cream brushed over the top and a sprinkling of un-refined sugar and off to the oven or perhaps the freezer for later baking.

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If baking later, I freeze the scones until solid and then vacuum seal them. They can go straight from the freezer to the oven, baking a few minutes longer, but the results are indistinguishable from baking right after mixing. They will keep for several months in the freezer. They never last that long in our freezer.

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Here are some previously frozen scones straight from the oven on a workday morning!

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Worthy of the fruit! Check out the recipe here.

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