BLUEBERRY BUCKLE // the local food report

We could talk about something else. But I'd rather keep talking about blueberries. We have eaten 15 pints in 8 days, and the feeling of bounty is what I imagine it might be like to win the lottery. We've picked 29 pints in all, frozen 13, and used one to make a blueberry buckle. 

We'll talk more about the buckle in a minute, but in the meantime I want to take a second to talk about varieties. I was picking wild blueberries the other day, and I noticed that there were very light and very dark blueberries on bushes right next to each other. Some were big, some were smaller, some were tart, and some were sweet. But they were all there, in the same swamp, side by side. I decided to check in my field guide when I got home, and I discovered that there are four distinct varieties of wild blueberries that grow in our area. I also learned that huckleberries are a close relative, and that something called the bilberry is also related and edible. (Though I have yet to knowingly encounter one.) The distinguishing feature to look for on all three berries is the crown at the base of the berry—it should have five sharp points ringed in a circle. I also learned that blueberries and huckleberries often cross in the wild, which could explain why I saw so many varieties growing in one area. If you're interested, here's the blueberry page, from Wild Edible Plants of New England by Joan Richardson. (It will get bigger if you click on it.)

I think I've found mostly early low and classic highbush blueberries around here, though that doesn't explain the darker berries, which I'm guessing are a blueberry-huckleberry hybrid. I've seen them on the edges of ponds, in the woods all over Wellfleet, and in wet areas in the dunes on the bay side. 

All of this reading up got me curious about domesticated blueberry varieties, too, which is how I met Stephen Spear of Hokum Rock Farm in Dennis and put together this week's Local Food Report (you can listen here). He grows five varieties, and in the process of researching for the show, I discovered there are dozens of other domesticated varieties. The best online review I've found for gardeners in our area is through Cornell University over here. Stephen grows Duke, Spartan, Bluecrop, Bluegold, and Coville, all of which do well with cold winters and are known for big, sweet berries with high yielding plants. This in turn makes for happy pick-your-own customers, and a productive acre and a half. Stephen's planted 1500 plants in all, and the varieties ripen in the order listed above to span a season that lasts from early July to mid-August. It's pretty neat.

As for the blueberry buckle, it's Stephen's recipe. I'm not entirely sure how it's intended to be eaten, but it's one of those things I think can be called a cake at dinner time and a coffee cake in the morning. In other words, I can always find an excuse to cut off a slice. It feels celebratory and decadent and is both sweet and moist, and in general lives up to the way summer ought to feel. It's a keeper, I think.


This recipe is adapted from the one posted online at the Hokum Rock Farm website. You could use small berries, but I think it's best with the big highbush varieties, as they melt into the dough and form big pockets of sweetness. If you're freezing berries, this would totally work as a winter dish—just thaw the berries before you throw them in.

for the cake:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons soft butter
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
2 cups blueberries

for the crumb topping:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch square cake pan. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, butter, and egg. Stir in the milk.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just mixed, then fold the berries in carefully. Spread the mixture into the prepared pan.

To make the topping, whisk together the dry ingredients in a small bowl and then cut in the butter. Spread evenly over berry mixture and bake for 40-50 minutes, until just set.

Cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. After dinner, a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top is nice. In the morning, it's especially good with milky coffee.


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.