Blueberries might just be one of those perfect foods.
They are nutrient-packed powerhouses of the tiny variety. Not to mention tart-sweet and delicious. And right now they're falling off the trees at Hidden Star Orchards in the Sierra Foothills and spilling over their baskets at the Hidden Star Orchard's booth at the . It's peak blueberry season and a perfect time to bring home a basket or two and cook something blue.
As we all know, blueberries are high in antioxidants and have a whole host of healing properties, including beneficial effects on the brain and memory. They have a diverse range of nutrients, phytochemicals and anthocyanins which give many fruits their rich shades of blue, purple and red and are known to reduce inflammation and the risk of cancer. Other studies show that blueberry consumption lowers cholesterol and blood-lipid levels, possibly affecting symptoms of heart disease.
And one great tip: you can freeze blueberries without harming any of their antioxidant properties, another reason to buy a bucket now to enjoy all year round.
Blueberries are native to North America and can be cultivated or picked in the wild. The wild or "low bush" blueberries are smaller and have an intense color. The most commonly cultivated blueberry plant in the U.S. is the "northern high bush" blueberry, but the Bay Area's climate won't allow these plants to hit their "required 800 chill hours" which mean the hours spent below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
But "southern high bush" blueberries do work well here and there are numerous varieties. After some research, I am tempted to plant some in my own back yard. Apparently you can get 60 and sometimes 90 days of fruit off of certain Bay Area-friendly blueberry bushes like the "sunshine blue," "jubilee" or the "jewel," which sound like such a happy plants.
You can even landscape them into hedges and borders and in the spring their flowers are white and pink, in the fall their leaves turn orange and red. Only problem is, you have a wait about five years for blueberry plants to reach their peak yields. In the mean time, stick with the farmers market and your freezer.
See this recipe below for a fabulous berry tart. I'm going to confess that a very kitchen-savvy neighbor who knows her way around a pastry crust made this tart and brought it over and I have not attempted it myself yet - she adapted it from a recipe found in the New York Times. It is fresh and light tasting and perfect for the Fourth of July holiday.
Red, White and Blueberry Tart with an Almond Shortbread Crust
FOR THE TART SHELL
- 1 and a half cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup blanched sliced almonds
- 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
- Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
- Pinch kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
FOR THE PASTRY CREAM
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1 to 2 pints blueberries and hulled strawberries.
1. For the crust, place 1/4 cup flour and the almonds in a food processor. Run until the almonds are finely ground, about 1 minute. Pulse in remaining one and a quarter cups flour, sugar, lemon zest and salt.
2. Add the butter and pulse until a coarse meal forms. Add the egg and pulse until the dough comes together. Press dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for 4 hours or up to a week.
3. To make the pastry cream. Pour in milk to a heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk flour and sugar. Slowly whisk in the hot milk. Return mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture just starts to boil, 1 to 2 minutes.
5. In a large bowl, whisk yolks until pale and thick. Whisking constantly, pour the hot milk mixture into the yolks. Return the mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until custard is thick and smooth (170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). Do not let the mixture boil. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Chill 1 hour before using or up to 5 days.
6. When ready to bake the tart, roll the dough out between two sheets of plastic to a 3/8-inch thickness. Remove plastic and line a 9-inch tart pan with the dough; chill for 30 minutes.
7. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the tart shell with foil and fill with baking weights. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and weights. Continue baking, uncovered, for 5 to 10 more minutes, until pale golden. Allow tart shell to cool completely before filling.
8. Spoon chilled pastry cream into cooled tart shell. Arrange berries over the top of the tart. Serve within 2 hours for the best texture.