My Blue Heaven

There’s a sign on the highway that taunts me every time I drive past it: “Blueberries U-Pick”. I’m always too busy, too dressed, going somewhere else, always with the excuses. One morning this past week I decide to drop everything and just do it.

The Blueberry Patch is an institution in these parts and families are encouraged to come and spend the day, as evidenced by the number of parked cars that have preceded me. There’s quite an operation in process. It’s the coolest part of they day, and the lemonade stand is already in full swing. Next to it, folks with buckets of berries surround the cashier’s weigh station idly chatting and waiting their turn. In a quiet moment I sheepishly step forward and murmur that I’m new at this, a first timer.

Chuck the manager, clearly has been through this drill many times before. Taking me under his wing, he moves around the stand and reaches for a harness and bucket. In short order I’m fitted with my gear, snapped in, and we are headed out in search of proper picking grounds. I ask Chuck how much the bucket might hold. “Oh, maybe ten pounds,” he calculates and stops at a row. He carefully pulls a loaded branch over the bucket and gingerly loosens only the ripe ones, they fall effortlessly into the bucket. Nice.

“What about snakes?” I nervously ask Chuck as I examine the shady, inviting bushes. Chuck assures me not to worry, his dogs stay busy; he wishes me happy picking, and retreats.

I examine my territory. I am alone amongst 47 acres of tall fat bushes. Where is everyone? Where do I begin? I sample a berry or two; they are plump, juicy and delicious. Wow! I have the necessary incentive to proceed.

Not so easy. I fumble as many of my fattest gems entirely miss the bucket and fall below. On hands and knees, I search out these errant beauties, the ground is scattered with them! How sad… one for me, and one for the pot. I gaze about, it’s a gorgeous setting, the bushes are lush, green, and so tall that they actually provide a bit of cover from the warming sun. I’d love to have one of these in my yard, I muse. My bucket is filling incredibly slowly. I have allotted myself 1 ½ hours for this task and time is passing fast. At this pace, I will be here all day.

With renewed vigor I approach the bushes in earnest and an easy rhythm develops. I smile as I pluck away. I overhear voices and snatches of conversations. A guy is asking his girl friend if she is waiting for the berries to drop into her bucket by themselves! Someone else is talking about their current travel; they’ve been to the hot springs and decided to stop. I hear Latinos chattering back and forth and the clipped sing-song banter of Asians hard at it. I am thoroughly embracing this cultural enclave! The berries are falling into my bucket by themselves, I look down and it is almost full! Done!

I am now an accomplished picker and smartly head to the weigh station, to expedite this matter and wrap it up. The owner is there presiding over the proceedings. He eyes my bucket of effort and heartily congratulates me as he places my loot on the scales. “Nine pounds!” he announces and beams.

I’m impressed too, that’s a lot of berries.

Blueberry Crostata with Hazelnut Streusel
A light free-formed pastry, lemon-scented blueberry filling and hazelnut enhanced streusel

Pastry
1 1/2 cups flour, less 2 Tbsp
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup butter, partially frozen, cut into 1/2″ pieces
2 tablespoons shortening, partially frozen, cut into pieces
4 tablespoons ice water, or more if needed
Streusel1/3 cup flour, heaping
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
1/4 cup butter, cold, diced
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, chopped
Berry Filling3 cups blueberries, heaping
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon, zest, grated
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg, beaten with 2 Tbsp water

For pastry: Place dry ingredients in food processor and place in freezer to chill. When ready, process 5 seconds to blend.
Add half each of the butter and shortening to processor and toss to coat with flour. Pulse 4 or 5 times, then process 4-5 seconds. Add remaining butter and shortening and pulse 4-5 seconds or to consistency of fine meal with some pea sizes. Add 4 tbsp ice water all at once and just to form clumps, adding more water if necessary. Press into a ball with floured hands and form into 5″ disk. Chill 30 minutes or longer. Makes 9-11″shell.

For streusel: In same processor place dry ingredients and pulse to combine; Add butter and pulse to form pea sized crumbs, add hazelnuts,pulse briefly. crumble with fingers to form clumps; and chill til needed.

For filling: Combine the dry ingredients in medium bowl, add lemon juice and toss. Add berries and stir to combine.

To assemble crostata: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment.
On floured surface, roll out pastry to about 11-12″ circle. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and pile berry filling onto center leaving 1/2-2″ border. Sprinkle berries with crumbled streusel, holding a little back. Brush edges with beaten egg and gently fold the edge of dough up and over berries, pleating and sealing to encase berries and form neat secure circle. Fill in with remaining streusel and brush exterior pastry edge with beaten egg.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until blueberry filling is bubbly and pastry is golden, lower heat if streusel browns to quickly. Cool. Serve warm or room temperature. Serves 6-8. ~~

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