I can recall many a bygone summer punctuated by berry picking. Just a stone’s throw from the edge of Vancouver proper unfolds seemingly endless opportunities to pick your own fruit. Nearly any berry you could want, you can pick, if the time is right. As the thermometer rises, and the sun does its magic, the region swells with fruit, ripened and ready to be plucked by the adventurous, the frugal and sometimes the unwilling. (The unwilling being myself and my niece Justine, who is only 5 years younger than me.)
As kids, we hated it, dreaded it.
The car ride: too hot with bare legs sticking to the seats, and seat belt buckle burns. The farms themselves: there was always a dodgy looking old guy or a ferocious seeming dog. The blazing sun: high sun, sweltering down on us, shoulders and backs peeling despite the slick of sunscreen and the embarrassingly wide brimmed hats. The bugs: at every turn there were spider webs to get ensnared in, sometimes with spiders. Or grasshoppers whizzing and clicking and zipping up the leg of your shorts. Or snakes. The reach: we were kids so we were short (we still are) so leaning into brambles, bushes and rows upon rows of shrubbery to reach up-high clusters of berries meant falling into them, crushing your plastic ice cream pail, losing your hat, likely swallowing a spider and getting leapt upon by any manner of creature. The work: this was hard labour, man. Minutes dragged by, hours felt like days and had we not been so creeped out by the flying, biting stinging things we would have just laid down under the bushes and waited for it to be done.
However did we make it through?
In reality it was never as bad as we remembered.Those car rides were filled with games of 20 questions, rock paper scissors and singing along to the radio. The farms were a change of pace from our city homes and the dogs, although full of bark, were never filled with bite. And the sun? We lived for midday sun. Justine would turn an impressive deep caramel and I would freckle — peeling sunburns and comparing tan lines was all part of the fun. The bugs were bad, the snakes were thrilling and while the grown ups were rows away from us, chatting, steadily filling their pails, we could be rambunctious, squealing at the sight of a wasp, chasing a snake, or poking spiders’ webs with sticks, only to shriek and recoil if they moved. Was it work? Not at all, it was a day outside with all the berries we could possibly eat.
As an adult, I now appreciate the work of picking berries, whether it’s me who picks them, or whether I just pick them up at the market. Either way, I have a better perspective on what it takes for local farmers to grow, produce, harvest, and sell their fruit. I’m also no longer “unwilling” to stop by a u-pick and fill an old ice cream pail or two on a sunny weekend afternoon. What changed? Well, now I get to do things with the pickings. Jams, tarts, cereal toppers, or muffins. The culinary options abound with fresh, seasonal fruit. It’s a short season, we may as well get all of it that we can – even if that means battling the grasshoppers, sidestepping snakes or even feeling like a kid again.
Lemon Blueberry Muffins
Since these little gems are not made by the “muffin method” they have a more classically cake-like crumb to them and they transform into loaf very well. Make this recipe as 2 loaves, 24 muffins or 1 loaf and 12 muffins.
preheat oven to 350°
1-3/4 C all purpose flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
a scant 1/8 tsp nutmeg (just a little pinch)
1/4 tsp salt
1 C yoghurt
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp vanilla
zest of 2 lemons, finely grated
1/2 C butter or margarine
1 C sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 -1/2 C fresh blueberries
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and nutmeg. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix the yoghurt, lemon juice and vanilla together. Set aside. Cream together the butter, lemon zest and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the beaten eggs one at a time. Once the eggs are incorporated, mix in one third of the flour mixture then one half of the yoghurt. Repeat, alternating until all the flour and yoghurt mixtures are blended. Carefully fold in the blueberries. Scrape the batter into prepared (greased and floured) loaf tins or into muffin pans.
For loaves, bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean. For muffins, bake 20-22 minutes.
Allow to cool in the pan 5 minutes before turning out onto wire cooling rack.