Side Dish: The berry best time of the year

Some people love the heat of summer, but I’m not among them — except, that is, about now when it brings an abundance of blueberries, one of my favorite summer treats, to local farmers markets and U-pick farms.

Pam Hodson, who retired last year from the LSU AgCenter as a professor and public relations specialist, emailed recently to say she’d just come from picking blueberries in Franklinton and had seen a couple of other U-pick farms between there and Folsom. “The farmer told me the cold winter produced a great crop which will run until the end of June or early July,” she said.

By coincidence, Cliff Muller of Berry Sweet Orchards L.L.C. in Ethel, called with a report on this summer’s prolific blueberry crop in the Felicianas.

“Every grower who I’ve spoken to says it’s the best bloom out they’ve ever had. We had a lot of flowers on the trees, so much so I took pictures. It looked like it snowed from the set fruit. The trees were loaded with so many green berries that they were actually hanging to the ground.” Muller said.

Berries on his 1,400 trees were late in ripening this year because of winter’s cold and dry weather, he said. “It was the last day of May before we got rain in East Feliciana Parish.”

Muller grows eight to 11 different varieties of the rabbiteye blueberry,which he said has a typical season from the first week of June into the first or second week of July. “But this year, we’re running about a week behind,” he said.

Farmers with the earliest berries grow the Southern Highbush, he added.

His U-pick farm is normally open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Call (225) 683-1001 before going out to pick to make sure it’s open. For more information, go to berrysweetorchards.com.

After getting home with your blueberries, freeze any that you’re not using right away. First remove any leaves, stems and defective berries, the National Center for Home Food Preservation says. Don’t wash the berries before packing into freezer containers and be sure to leave head space. You also can freeze blueberries first on a cookie sheet or tray and then pack into containers as soon as they’ve frozen. Wash before using the blueberries.

Muller shares favorite blueberry recipes he’s collected from customers and from the Miss-Lou Blueberry Growers Association.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s food editor. Her email address is csonnier@theadvocate.com.

Blueberry Cobbler

Serves 8. Recipe is provided by Cliff Muller.

23 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

3/4 cup sugar, divided

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tbl. lemon juice

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

3/4 cup milk

25 tbls. margarine

2

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix blueberries, 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice in medium-size bowl.

2. In another bowl, mix remaining 1/2 cup sugar, flour, baking powder, eggs and milk.

3. Melt margarine in 9-inch square baking pan. Remove from oven; immediately pour batter over hot, melted margarine. Spoon blueberry mixture over batter.

4. Bake 40-45 minutes until puffy and brown. If desired, serve with vanilla ice cream. Serve warm.

Blueberry Yum Yum Cake

Makes 9-inch-by-13-inch cake. Recipe is provided by Cliff Muller.

22 cups fresh blueberries

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup water, divided

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 cup flour

1/2 cup margarine

1 cup finely chopped pecans

1 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese

1 cup powdered sugar

1 (9-oz.) container whipped topping

2

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Combine blueberries, 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a saucepan and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Combine remaining water and cornstarch, add to blueberries and cook until thickened. Set aside.

3. Combine flour, margarine and pecans. Pat mixture into a 9-inch-by13-inch pan and bake 10 to 20 minutes, or until light brown. Cool.

4. Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar together, then add whipped topping and pour over cooled crust. Pour blueberry mixture over cream cheese layer and refrigerate.