The New Convivialist

Month: August, 2012

Maine and Blueberries and The Second Best Small Town

There is admittedly a long list of other recipes and articles that I should write before this one, but having just arrived back to Berlin after my summer vacation back Stateside in Maine, I am desperately ridden with pangs of blueberry cravings. I fear the only remedy will be to write about it.

The entire week and a half I spent in Maine was just filled with blueberries. Imagine that. Blueberries in Maine in August. It started with the sparkling, oceanside wedding of my friends from college, Cecilia and Jordan: they served blueberry pie instead of cake, scattered blueberries around each table’s centerpiece and gave out blueberry jam as a party favor to the guests. The groomsmen all wore a stem of blueberries on their lapels.

After the wedding a few us of passed through Portland and walked by the fantastic bakery situated across from the harbor there, Standard Baking Company. This got me thinking hard about a recipe for that bakery’s blueberry scones that I had tried last year.

We headed west towards my family’s house near Maine’s border to New Hampshire on Long Pond, situated next to the self-aggrandizing “Second Best Small Town in Maine”. I always ask myself the same questions when I think about this title: 1, which (if any) is the first best small town in Maine and 2, who came up with this competition anyway and why don’t other states adopt it too? U-Pick blueberry signs were rampant along the country roads. They practically beg you to turn off into the woods; I could hardly wait until the next day to either forage or go to the farm for those sweet blue starlets.

Now, aside from the Second Best Small Town, the area around my family’s place is not the stereotypical “Vacationland” that Maine claims to be. That, for the most part, refers to the coastal regions. This part of the state is another story. Consider the Main Street in the next village over from the Second Best Small Town: a gun shop and “Sonshine Books and Bibles” stand across from a run-down gas station and a pub of the kind that, if your daddy’s mama and your mama’s daddy weren’t born within five miles, you’d best be stayin’ away from. The locals are, for the most part, less than friendly, even gruff (which to be honest, I sort of love, but still not the attitude that one would expect in “Vacationland”).

The blueberry farm we go to is a unique place. I like it because it is peaceful: the farmers allow pickers to simply walk up the hill to the field, pick the berries, weigh them in the barn and leave the money in a metal box. Charming. Trusting. Right? Well, ye-ees. Until you realize that this may be due to another reason, that the farmers are simply so antisocial that they couldn’t care less to deal with a public that comes to pick their berries. You begin to notice some details on the farm. You notice next to the darling little U-Pick sign with painted blueberries a deadly lineup of junior rifles nailed to the barn wall. Then you hear the conservative talk radio blaring from inside. Then… Well, that’s backwoods Maine for you. Ok, I admit maybe I am overly critical; a younger version of myself was once rather vehemently kicked out of this very blueberry field for picking when it wasn’t actually open. Officially. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful spot that sports organic blueberries, with the perfect size and proportion of sweet to sour. My friend Lauren, who was along from LA and agrees that Mainers tend to be less than friendly (but she also sort of loves it) found the picking to be a perfect Maine experience, so I suppose it must have something going for it.

I made blueberry pancakes and blueberry pie. I ate them in my yogurt and plain by the fistful. It’s a wonder I didn’t make myself sick in the process.

My favorite endeavor, though, was baking the blueberry oat scones. I have also made them with blackberries last year, as it was earlier in the summer and the blackberries were growing wild. So whatever is freshest and tastiest to you will do fine. Eaten with a bit of butter and a dose of maple syrup on top, the scones are divine while sitting on the dock watching the sunrise. Or realistically, in my case now, five minute before running out the door to work in the morning.

Berry Oat Scones from Standard Baking Company, Portland, ME

Recipe adapted and modified from Bon Appetit magazine

Ingredients:

3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour

1/3 cup (67 grams) packed golden brown sugar

1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. baking powder

1 ½ tsp. baking soda

¾ tsp. kosher salt

11 Tbsp. (5 ½ ounces or 156 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

¾ cups cold half-and-half (175 grams cream)

1 cup (225 grams) plain Greek yogurt, full fat

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup (90 grams) rolled oats

1 ½ cups (approx. 200 grams) fresh blueberries or blackberries

For garnish:

5 tsp. turbinado (demera) sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using either a food processor (pulse to mix well), your hands or a pastry knife, cut in the butter cubes until the mixture looks coarse and the largest lumps of butter are no bigger than the size of a pea.

3. In a large bowl, stir together the yogurt, half-and-half and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and the rolled oats, and stir until just combined. Be careful not to overwork it or the dough will get too warm and spread out in the oven. The dough will be thick and sticky. Add the berries, and stir very briefly to mix.

4. Take a 1/3-cup measuring cup and scoop the dough onto the baking sheets in mounds about 3 inches apart. If there are any stray berries, you can press them into the mounds of dough. Sprinkle the tops with the turbinado sugar

5. Bake for 24 to 27 minutes, or until the center of the scones feels firm to the touch and tops are very slightly brown.

 Eat fresh out of the oven with butter and maple syrup, or later, warm in a toaster oven.

Yield: 12-13 scones

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Highly recommended

I have been lusting after the NOMA cookbook for more than a year. Every time I would find myself in a bookshop, I would be magnetically drawn to the grey tome by Phaidon and flip googly-eyed through the oddly beautiful photographs and even odder recipes. Finally after dirty looks from bookshop clerks all over the city, I decided I should just buy it.

You may already be familiar with the restaurant NOMA in Copenhagen, headed by chef René Redzepi and renowned as the best in the world for the past couple of years. Don’t plan on actually cooking any of the recipes provided in NOMA. One (chosen at random) calls for such ingredients as 4 pig tails, 5g dried verbena leaves, small Vitelote potatoes, 3 handfuls of hay, applewood chips, and 100 grams of reduced birch wine. And I think this is not even the most extreme. So unless you are on the coast of Iceland and can collect your own fresh dulse from the beach, you will have to be happy looking at the radical images, imagining the flavors of Redzepi’s dishes and diving into his physical journey around Scandinavia to source the ingredients for the restaurant. I think you will be satisfied with this.