Whatever your red, hot and blueberry fantasies, you live in the right region.
Georgia, as it turns out, has in recent years become a top producer of cultivated blueberries. According to the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Matthew Kulinski, southeast Georgia produces most of the state’s blueberries. (Incidentally, my blueberry-growing friends from Atlanta to South Georgia tell me they are having a bumper crop this year, thanks to the heat and humidity.)
“Blueberries like the acidic soil and high organic matter found near the Okefenokee area,” Kulinski told me via email. “Bacon County is the epicenter.”
When did this happen?
According to Kulinski, Georgia farmers started to favor “tame” blueberries (as opposed to wild) as a replacement crop for out-of-vogue tobacco in the 1990s. In 2014, the state had its peak year, producing 98 million pounds of blueberries.
Depending on which statistic you look at, Georgia was No. 1 in sales of fresh blueberries in 2014 and 2015. Since then, Kulinski says, Mexico has started to compete — in a big way. Mexico can deliver berries at the exact same time as Georgia growers, while historic top producers like Washington, Oregon and Michigan have different growing and harvesting seasons, so they aren’t in direct competition.
I think I’ll forgo the politics and focus on pie. I’m certain not to be alone in that regard.
At Cooks & Soldiers, executive chef Matthew Ridgway serves a lovely Blueberry-Brown Butter Tart. Kyma chef Pano Karatassos concocts Semolina Custard and Blueberry Phyllo Pies. (You can find Karatassos' recipe in his book, "Modern Greek Cooking," published last year by Rizzoli.)
As for yours truly, I’ve decided that zingy lemon is the perfect complement to the sweet berry. I’ve been making Martha Hall Foose’s classic Lemon Icebox Pie for years — why not add a topping of blueberry compote? With or without whipped cream, the results were excellent; you’ll find the recipe with this article.
Sweet Georgia peaches also love consorting with petite blues. I’d suggest tossing a cup or two of blueberries into your next peach cobbler. Or just mix some peaches and berries together with a bit of sugar and lemon, let the flavors mingle for a bit, and eat them naked.
I've baked all kinds of blueberry coffee cakes over the years, including Miller Union chef Steven Satterfield's Blueberry Coffee Cake With Streusel and Georgia author Rebecca Lang's Brown-Butter Coffee Cake with Peaches and Blueberries, both fabulous.
But I’ve never had a more delightful one than the Blueberry Snack Cake with Toasted Pecans from Food 52’s “Genius Desserts” by Kristen Miglore. Like the love child of a blueberry muffin and a coffee cake, it’s super easy to assemble, has the tenderest crumb and — bonus points — allows you to use both Georgia blueberries and pecans. Set one by the coffeepot at your next brunch affair — it won’t last long.
Now this brings us to the savory side of the table.
Blueberries seem to have a special affinity for chicken and pork and a touch of spice.
At Alma Cocina downtown, chef Chad Clevenger is pairing roast chicken with blueberry mole and carnitas with pickled blueberry pico de gallo.
And Georgia Grown executive chef Holly Chute is on the same wavelength, with her Pork Chops with Blueberry Salsa. With a little bit of diced chile pepper, you too can embrace the red, hot and blue.
Here are three smart ways to enjoy summer blueberries at the height of the season: slathered over lemon icebox pie; nestled in a warm and toasty coffee cake with pecans; and stirred into a bright, simple salsa and spooned over pork chops for an easy but impressive supper for two.
Lemon and Blueberry Icebox Pie
This wonderful, sweet-tart pie calls for a buttery graham cracker crust that you make yourself. To save time: Use a store-bought crust, and skip the whipped cream. If you do make the whipped cream, here are two ideas: Whip it to stiff-peak stage, and spread over the blueberries for a three-layer pie. Or, stop mixing the cream before it stiffens, leaving it a bit soft and frothy. Serve on the side, spooning over sliced pie as desired. (To make blueberry whipped cream: Save out 1 tablespoon of the blueberry topping, smash it with a fork, and add to the mixer as you whip. Decrease confectioners’ sugar by 1 tablespoon, or sweeten to taste.)
Pork Chops with Blueberry Salsa
Georgia Grown executive chef Holly Chute shared her recipe for pork chops with a fresh salsa. It’s a simple meal for two that comes together quickly. Make the salsa, and while the flavors marry, cook the pork chops.
Use any leftovers on grilled meat, fish, eggs or vegetables. You may also stir into salsa or guacamole, or sprinkle over cucumbers, melon or crudites, with salt.
Blueberry Snack Cake with Toasted Pecans
We found this keeper in Food52’s “Genius Desserts” by Kristen Miglore (Ten Speed Press, $35). It would be a great project to bake with kids; they can have an afternoon snack and you can have the rest for breakfast.
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