Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lowbush Blueberries + Blueberry Muffins

In New England, blueberry season typically runs May through October, peaking in July. It wasn't until last week, though, that the best (so far) crop of sweet wild blueberries appeared at my favourite produce market. Blueberries have always been my favourite thing to eat, and since they're full of vitamins and antioxidants, I have one more reason to eat quarts of them during blueberry season!

Large, juicy highbush blueberries are delicious, but everyone I know prefers the small, sweet lowbush blueberries that grow- both wild and farmed- all over New England. These miniscule blue-gray gems begin to appear at the market in July and August, though if we're lucky, we manage to pick them at a local pick-your-own farm before then. Most days, though, I succumb to the allure of particularly fresh-looking berries at the produce market.

How can you tell when blueberries are fresh? Go for dark, plump berries, and avoid containers with juice stains on the underside. A powdery white bloom on the berry skin is a good sign- it's a safe, naturally occuring food starch that protects the blueberry. Don't wash it off until you are ready to use the berries. shiny, dark skins mean the blueberries have been over-handled and probably aren't too fresh.

Strictly speaking, at $5 or more per pint, wild blueberries seem like an expensive indulgence. However, one container can actually go a long way. We've found that one pint yields two to three batches of blueberry muffins, or blueberry pancakes for 8. If you sprinkle them on breakfast foods, two people can eat blueberries every morning for a week. For me, this is heaven!

If you don't want to eat blueberries that often (but how could you not?), you can always freeze them for use all year round. Spread the berries out on a baking pan covered in parchment or waxed paper and place the pan in the freezer. When the berries are frozen, pour them into labeled freezer-safe bags or containers for later use.

If you're like me, however, and you want to eat your blueberries right away, these muffins are a great way to enjoy them.

Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12-16 muffins, depending on the size of your muffin tins.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I like safflower or grapeseed oil)
1 heaping cup blueberries

Do not preheat oven.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl.

In another bowl, beat the egg, then beat in the milk and oil. Pour this wet mixture into the dry mixture. Mix batter lightly until moistened but still lumpy. Gently fold in one cup of blueberries. Pour the batter into a lightly greased muffin tin, filling each cup about 2/3 full.

Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven and place muffin tins on the rack. Turn the oven to 400' F (205' C). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden.

Note: I have found that these muffins turn out best if all the beating is done by hand. Lumpy muffin batter is a good thing!

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