Let me tell you about these blueberries that followed me home from California. There they were the other day, in a hunking great display the size of a small garden shed, right at the front of my local organic megastore: clamshell packages bursting with plump ripe fruit. Okay, these particular blueberries were not organic, but they sure were fresh.
Even before blueberries hit the scene as one of the latest and greatest megafoods, we had a passion for them here at Chez Bullhog. Forget the fact they contain a whole complement of nutrients that have been shown to reduce cholesterol, brain disease, depression and blood pressure – we thought they were just so darned good that we’d gobble them right up. Oprah’s doctor might now tout the virtues of resveratrol as an antidote to cancer, but we always liked the big burst of not-too-sweet flavor that blueberries released on our taste buds. Can you say ‘Yum’?
So how can you tell fresh blueberries from ones that have been hanging around in cold storage? For best results, look for small to medium berries with just a smattering of large ones. We find that big berries look good, but tend to be mushy. The blueberry skin should be taut with no wrinkles. And the little stems hanging on to some of the berries should be green, not brown. Lastly, if the packaging is clear, hold it up in the air. There should be few if any blueberries smashed on the bottom.
Here’s a recipe my Scottish grandmother would have approved of whole-heartedly. It’s a great way to showcase the finest berries of the season. The trick is to make a scone dough that’s not worked too much; overworking makes the dough tough. Mix just well enough to get the components moist, but keep it crumbly. A light touch, as my Scots grandma would say, is the right touch.
The best scones come from quality ingredients. Use organic flour to impart freshness and spring to the scones, European-style butter for full-flavored authenticity, and large-grained sugar for a crunchy top. But no worries, here. You will get fine results with non-organic flour, regular butter and a topping of table sugar.
Let’s make scones!
Fresh Blueberry Scones
Makes 12 medium-sized scones
2 cups blueberries
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon lemon juice
3¼ cups organic unbleached all-purpose flour
4 level teaspoons baking powder
1 scant teaspoon salt (accurate amount is more like 7/8 teaspoon)
4 ounces (1/2 cup) salted Kerrygold Irish butter
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
¾ cup milk (I use 2% Lactaid)
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg white
½ teaspoon water
3 Tablespoons large-grained baker’s sugar (I use ‘Sugar in the raw’)
Preheat the oven: Fix oven rack to one notch above center, and turn the oven to 475º.
Prepare the blueberries: Measure blueberries, wash them in cold water, drain and then spread the berries out onto a cloth or paper towel. Pick out any small leaves, stems, flower bits and shriveled berries. Put the blueberries back into the measuring cup or bowl and sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice.
Make the dough: In a mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the softened butter until the clumps are the size of a pea. Squeeze the mixture with your fingers until the butter is incorporated and flour mix is crumbly. Beat egg and yolk and reserve 2nd white for a glaze. Toss egg and then milk into the flour mixture, working lightly with a fork. Add sugar and knead for 15 or 20 seconds in the bowl, just until the dough holds together. Scrape bowl if necessary.
Make the scones: Grease a heavy 12” x 17” cookie sheet with butter and set within reach. Divide the dough into two equal parts. Working on a well-floured surface, stretch each piece of dough to make two 8” x 11” rectangles. You could use a rolling pin if you’d like, but I prefer the irregular surface you get by working at it with your fingers. In any case, you’ll need to turn the pieces a few time to keep from sticking.
Spread the blueberries out onto one of the rectangles of dough. Carefully top with the second dough rectangle, aligning edges. Gently press the top onto the berries.
Using a floured knife or dough cutter, slice the rectangle into six squares, and then cut each square into two triangles, so that you have 12 triangular scones. Carefully move these onto the baking sheet. If any berries pop out, stick them back in as best you can.
Whisk together the egg white and a little water, and brush scones twice with this to coat the surface well. Sprinkle evenly with baker’s sugar.
Bake the scones: Bake scones for 14 minutes at 475º. When lightly browned on top, remove scones to a rack to cool for several hours to develop that true scone texture; cover with a clean cloth after the first hour.
Store the scones: To retain the scone’s texture, you can store them for as long as 3 days in a cookie tin or plastic box covered with a cloth. If any are left after that time, these scones also freeze well; reheat for 8 minutes at 350º to revive.
Here’s a blessing that hung on my grandmother’s wall, one that I wondered about as a boy. All those funny words! My grandmother wasn’t particularly religious, but I think this gave her a sense of connection to Scotland, which she left at a young age.
The Selkirk Grace by Robert Burns
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.