Friday, January 14, 2011

Chilean blueberries deliver a fresh taste of summer

I've spent the last few days staring at my iced-over "edible" backyard which now includes a variety of sad-looking herbs, a couple of listing olive trees, and three blueberry bushes whose branches look like protruding ice spikes.

It's kind of shocking to think that in five months those same plants will be lush and ready to yield all sorts of goodies.  Unfortunately, at this point, summer seems like a lifetime away (even in central Alabama).

That all changed yesterday when a little taste of summer arrived at my front door courtesy of the Chilean Blueberry Committee.  The berries were so fragrant, I could smell them before I even opened the box.  I washed up a few of the plump beauties and performed a little quality control.  They were amazing.  To keep myself from eating every last one of them, I put on my snow boots, walked outside, and snapped this picture (above)—even with an overcast sky and snow flurries.

Back inside, I was immediately reminded of two things:
1. My trip to Chile last January.
2. My Blueberry Buckle. (For those unfamiliar with a Buckle, it's a simple, down-home dessert with a cake-batter bottom; fresh fruit is usually placed on top—as the batter bakes, it rises up enveloping the fruit.)

Landing in Los Lagos
As far back as I can remember, we recommended fresh Chilean fruit—particularly peaches, nectarines, and berries—every winter in the food pages of Southern Living.  I've always been impressed with Chilean fruit, whether for photo shoots or recipe testing.  So when I had the opportunity to visit several fruit-growing areas of Chile last January, I grabbed my Lonely Planet guide and headed for the airport.

After two days in Santiago, I flew to Osorno, the gateway to the gorgeous Los Lagos region (Region of the Lakes) and the heart of the country's berry production. (As a frame of reference, if you section Chile into thirds, the Los Lagos region falls into the lower portion of the middle third.)

Volcán Villarica
The blueberry fields are framed by lush foothills and the awe-inspiring Volcán Villarica (which, for the record, is alive and well!).

Legacy, Duke, Brigitta, and Brightwell are popular blueberry varieties cultivated in Chile.

Duke blueberries at various stages of ripeness.

Fresh blueberries ready for the pack house.  From here, the individually packaged berries take an atmosphere-controlled ride to the port of Valparaíso, where they're shipped—in atmosphere-controlled containers—to the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

In The Kitchen
The sweet, slightly tart flavor of blueberries makes them quite versatile in the kitchen—from muffins and pancakes to salads and sauces.  Perhaps my favorite use is in baked desserts such as cobblers, crisps, grunts, and buckles.  The recipe below is super-easy to make and perfect for a cold winter day.  My kids love it served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

I hope you enjoy the recipe.  Please let me know what you think.

Tip: To freeze fresh blueberries, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet making sure they don't touch; freeze until solid, then immediately transfer to a plastic zip-top freezer bag or container; store in freezer up to 6 months.

Blueberry Buckle
Makes 6 servings
Prep: 15 min., Bake: 45 min.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar, divided
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter, cut into 8 pieces

Preheat oven to 375˚.  Beat 1/2 cup butter at medium speed with an electric hand or stand mixer until creamy; gradually add 1/2 cup sugar, beating until light and fluffy.  Add egg, and beat until blended.

Combine 1 1/4 cups flour, baking powder, and salt; add to butter mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat at low speed just until blended after each addition.  Stir in vanilla and lemon zest.

Pour batter into a greased 8-inch square baking dish.  Top with blueberries.

Combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar, remaining 1/4 cup flour, pecans, and cinnamon.  Cut in 1/4 cup butter with pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles small peas; sprinkle crumb topping over blueberries.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.  Let cool 10 minutes.

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  1. I bought some at Walmart from Chile and they were so good!

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