Berries abound in the summertime. In June, as we wind up the strawberry season and await blackberry season, we find ourselves right smack in the middle of blueberry season.
Blueberries, as you have probably already heard, are not only low in calories; they are extra rich in certain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which are anti-inflammatory and are known to reduce blood pressure. They purportedly reduce DNA damage, protect against cholesterol damage, help prevent heart disease, improve brain function, help improve memory, are antidiabetic, can help heal urinary infections and can aid in healing muscles after strenuous exercise. Blueberries are also high in vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese and fiber.
Blueberries are also a delight to behold. Perfect spheres of blue, sometimes bordering on purple or black, sometimes tinged with milky white, green and red in various stages of development, they take on many hues from the color spectrum. Their bushes are great garden ornamentals, with leaves that are pale green when new, deeper green in summer and scarlet in the autumn. They attract birds and butterflies (and sometimes bears!), as well as human children and hungry adults.
Do you recall the first time you tasted a blueberry? Were you a toddler reaching for your food with both hands, seeing how many you could stuff in your mouth at once? Were you visiting your grandmother, and did she bake a blueberry pie, pulling it steaming out of the oven, sandwiched between layers of buttery crust and toppling with whipped cream laced with a hint of vanilla? Did you wander out into the blueberry patch in the early morning dew, moisture dripping from each bush and berry, birds standing by as you picked your fill and stuffed your belly at the same time as your basket?
There are many things that can be done with blueberries besides the traditional pie, pancakes, muffins and jam. You can make a delectable cobbler, mixing sugar, flour, cinnamon and a touch of salt in with your berries, and topping them with a biscuit dough brushed with cream and sprinkled with more cinnamon and some turbinado sugar.
You can pickle them in a bath of lemon juice, wine vinegar, rosemary and fennel seeds brought to a boil and steeped for whatever length achieves the bite you wish. You can make a mostarda, combining the pickled berries and Dijon mustard with a bit of pickling liquid, and after reducing it to a jamlike consistency, serve it with freshly caught trout or a savory steak.
A simpler option is a blueberry parfait, layering fresh berries with whipped cream. (Add layers of freshly baked biscuits and call it a berry fool!) Serve this on a summer’s night, with crickets and lightning bugs punctuating the soft darkness, the rush of a stream in the background and the sigh of a dog settling down for a long nap at the edge of your perception.
It’s that time of year! Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, blackberries and (almost) mulberries: Early summer fruits are hanging from the vine, from the tree, crying out to be picked and prettied. There are so many things you can do with them it is dizzying — pies, jams, pickles (yes, even fruit can be pickled!), purées, sauce. You can garnish cakes, cereals, salads, breads, ice creams with the fruit of your choice. Or you can turn to this simplification of a classic French dessert, where “parfait” means “perfect.”
Freshly picked blueberries (or fruit of choice)
Sugar (or sweetener of choice)
Heavy whipping cream
Sort your fruit, discarding any bruised or unripe specimens. Wash, if the berries aren’t freshly picked. If from your own garden and carefully harvested, skip the washing process for better texture and flavor. Choose a glass (or glasses) from your cupboard and line the bottoms with a small handful of berries or other fruit, to which you’ve added sugar or another sweetener as needed. Whip your cream, including liqueur if you desire, and add a dollop of the ensemble to the berries. Repeat, ending with an extra dollop of whipped cream and a sprig of mint or an extra berry.
Variations: As with any recipe, possibilities for variations are endless. Mix yogurt or sour cream in with your whipped cream for a little tang, or substitute yogurt for the cream altogether. Add a layer of granola or other cereal and call it breakfast. Stir some liqueur in with the berries as well as with the cream. Sprinkle raw sugar on top of both berries and cream for a bit of crunch, or add a few toasted sesame seeds or some crumbled praline. Whip some fruit in with the cream for additional texture and color, or pour liqueur or fruit syrup over the top just before serving. Chill in the refrigerator or serve immediately. Give it your own twist!
Chef, musician and author Susi Gott Séguret orchestrates a variety of culinary experiences including her flagship Seasonal School of Culinary Arts, with sessions in Asheville, Ithaca, N.Y., Sonoma, Calif., and Paris. For more information, see schoolofculinaryarts.org.