Monday, August 31, 2015

Go wild!

The summer berry season has been amazing this year. In June - sweet strawberries. In July - raspberries, both red and golden. And August - blueberries! And oh, those wild ones are the best. Wild blueberries can be difficult to track down. It seems one needs to travel north to find them. And they have such a short season. They're also rather pricey but well worth the once-in-a-while treat as they have a completely different taste, texture and scent from cultivated blueberries. Fresh, fragrant and, yes, wild.

And, there's a perfect read to go with these delicious, almost frost-skinned, teeny-tiny berries - Wild Berries written and illustrated by Julie Flett and published by Simply Read Books. The book is a lovely tale of tradition - a story of a grandmother and a grandchild and their search for wild blueberries. The illustrations are earthy, graphic - and the expressions and postures of the characters (both human and animal) convey so much with such seemingly simple shapes, colours and lines. And oh, that gorgeous globe of persimmon sun. The circle of life. What goes around comes around. Yes. Tradition. Customs. Habits. Patterns one can count on. 

I was introduced to the work of Julie Flett through an instructor of mine, Kerry Clare, while at The School of Continuing Studies, University of Toronto. Kerry taught last October's The Art of Blogging course. And she posted an engaging interview with Julie on the 49th Shelf website in the fall of 2014. 

Reading about blueberries (ininimina or pikaci minisa) reminded me of my long-ago summer travels in Northern Ontario when as a child I traveled with my family to visit relatives - aunts, uncles and cousins - in Thunder Bay (although back then, it was known as Fort William and Port Arthur, yet I loved its other name, 'Land of The Sleeping Giant') along with places such as Geraldton, Red Rock. We stopped all along the way - collecting gems (so we thought), my mother with her geologist's hammer in hand; fishing at Longlac for pickerel and often snagging pike; and, of course, picking wild blueberries in the heat of the sun at the side of the road - all seven of us! Our car would be weighed down with baskets full of rocks and stone, fish for frying, the berries long gone.

A favourite page of the book? It's the one where the young boy shows his consideration for his feathery friends by leaving a leaf full of berries for the birds on which to nibble. Such a thoughtful gesture on the boy's part. All of the interactions with nature and the creatures throughout the book are tiny treasures.

At our home, we had birds nesting most of the spring and summer. Three clutches of barn swallows - the adults building nests and hatching young, their constant to-and-fro feeding of the nestlings, and then young fledglings learning to sail, swoop and dive. These birds return each year to the house using the same sites for their nests. Gorgeous snippets of nature. We long for and await their return next May. Another tradition.

Oh, and I loved learning words such as grandma, long time, birds, woods, and thank you in the Cree Language along with the pronunciation guide. Exploring another language and celebrating another culture - so illuminating.

There is also a simple, tasty recipe for 'wild blueberry jam' toward the end of the book. So good with just about anything - bread, pancakes, scones...

Wild Blueberry Jam
Recipe from Wild Berries by Julie Flett

4 cups wild blueberries
1/2 cup maple syrup 
1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp finely chopped mint

Combine ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Simmer ingredients and stir occasionally for 20 - 30 minutes until thickened.
Once the jam has cooled to room temperature, pour into sterilized glass jar and store in fridge.

This jam will keep for a week refrigerated. There are no preservatives in this recipe.


Lemon Cream Scones
Inspired by: Martha Stewart Living Magazine

3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt

Finely grated zest of one large lemon

8 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

3/4 cup heavy cream, plus 3 tbsp for topping
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the dry ingredients. Cut in butter with pastry cutter or rub in with your fingers. (The largest pieces should be the size of small peas.) Stir in the lemon zest. Make a well in the centre.

2.  In a separate bowl, whisk cream, eggs and vanilla. Add the cream mixture to the flour mixture. Mix with a fork until just dough begins to come together. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead a few times to combine (the dough will be slightly sticky).

3.  Pat dough into a 6-inch/ square. Cut into six 2-inch by 3-inch rectangles using a floured knife. (Alternatively, to make 12 scones, cut each rectangle on the diagonal to create triangles.) Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush tops of scones with cream, and sprinkle with sugar. 

4.  Bake on middle rack of oven until tops are golden brown and cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to wire cooling rack. 

5. While still slightly warm, enjoy with a dab of unsalted butter and a spread of wild blueberry jam. Blueberries and lemon - a sweet and tangy combination!


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