Blueberry lemonade

Why make lemonade when you can make blueberry lemonade?

Though still considered early days of summer, July is a pivotal time when local produce bops us on the head with its “We’re back!” memo on multi-colored stationary. Every day, it seems, Mother Nature unveils yet another glorious edible jewel. As reported earlier this month, corn is in the house. In recent days, green beans, cucumbers and zucchini have joined the stage, and this just in: blueberries have breezed into town.

As with cherries, the cold snap in mid-May delayed the blueberry season, which kicked off only a week ago. Last Friday morning, under very pleasant overcast skies, I headed out with a friend to Blueberry Hill Farm in Red Lion for some “u-pick” action, amassing a little more than 8 pounds of the blue beauties. Our timing, apparently, was impeccable; shortly after returning home, I learned that the farm temporarily paused picking to let more berries ripen. (Watch its Facebook page for updates if you decide to venture out.)

Blueberries Kim

Food writer Kim O'Donnel with her haul of u-pick blueberries at Blueberry Hill Farm in Red Lion.

Blueberries are a favorite at our house, and not just for breakfast granola. Within the berry world, blueberries are relatively hardy morsels, and their sturdy nature opens the culinary possibilities beyond the usual pie and muffin stream of consciousness. Blueberries are more versatile than you think, and they continue to surprise this ingredient tinkerer. Here are seven pairings — some old pairings, some new discoveries — for your next blueberry adventure.

Beans

Black beans and white beans, in particular, love hanging out with blueberries. To make this summery cold bean salad, cook 1 cup of each bean separately and drain. Transfer to separate bowls and season each with a slick of olive oil (about 1 tablespoon) and the juice of 1/2 lime. Yes, it should be limey. Season the black beans with 1 teaspoon of chili powder blend and the white beans with 1 teaspoon of ground coriander. Add salt and pepper to each. Transfer both to a large bowl and add 1 cup of blueberries, maybe 1 cup of corn kernels, some diced red bell pepper, scallions and your favorite leafy herbs. Wait to stir until everything is in there. Isn’t it a sight to behold?

Herbs

Blueberries are arguably one of the most herb-friendly fruits, which is handy if you want to quickly dress up a cup or two of berries for a snack or a savory side. I am partial to a basil pairing, but a few teaspoons of finely chopped dried lavender is pretty magical. Lemongrass, oh my, or lemon thyme! Mint, but of course. Sugar is completely optional.

Lemons

The chemistry between blueberries and citrus fruit runs deep, especially with lemons. So why make traditional lemonade when you can make blueberry lemonade?

Here’s how it works:

Puree 2 cups of blueberries with 1/2 cup sugar and the grated zest of 2 lemons. Pass through a fine strainer. The resulting nectar will be a gorgeous shade of magenta. Pour into a pitcher and add 1 cup of fresh lemon juice (from about 6 lemons) and 2 cups cold water. Stir together and you have an elixir of the ages. Pour over ice, straight up, or with a little seltzer water, or maybe some vodka. Any direction is heavenly.

Pickled Onions

Place 1 cup water, 1/2 cup vinegar (something mild like rice vinegar or apple cider), 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 teaspoons salt in a bowl and stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add 1 cup thinly sliced red onion and 1/2 cup blueberries. Let sit for about 20 minutes or longer. You can drain and eat right away as a condiment for sandwiches or roast chicken or store in the refrigerator for about 1 week.

Blueberry gazpacho

This riff on Spanish gazpacho swaps out tomatoes for blueberries. 

Cucumbers

Yes, really. In fact, I am going to propose that you make gazpacho and instead of tomatoes, use blueberries. The swap is a delightful surprise.

A template for consideration:

In a blender or food processor, add 1 large cucumber, chopped (skin is fine); 1/2 chile pepper of choice; 1/2 onion; 2 cups blueberries; 1 to 2 cloves garlic; juice of 1/2 lemon; 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar; 1/2 cup basil leaves; 1 to 2 teaspoons salt. I might add 1 red bell pepper, too. Blend everything together, then taste and reseason as needed. Best served chilled. Serve with some olive oil. It’s delicious!

Dairy

If you like milk, cheese and variations, then you’ll love mixing it up with some blueberries. Stir into some cream cheese for your next bagel, into yogurt, on a cheese plate with plain chevre or a triple crème brie, and, yes, even in a grilled cheese sandwich. You will not be sorry.

Blueberry crisp

Blueberry crisp for a party of one (left) and two (left). 

Crisp

For dessert, I channeled my dear friend Bill Addison, restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times and a former pastry chef. Bill is crazy for all kinds of fruit desserts, but there's a special place in his heart for a fruit crisp. And during the pandemic, while holed up by himself, he’s been crafting individual fruit crisps, which he’s admitted to eating for breakfast. In honor of Bill, who’s dearly missing the summer produce of his hometown of Bel Air, Maryland, let’s make blueberry crisp for a party of one or two, or a big one for the whole gang. It’s all good.

Here’s how you do it:

Thoroughly grease a baking dish or ramekins. (For individual portions, you can use 2- or 3-inch ramekins; for 2 servings, a 5-inch dish works well. And if all you have is an 8-inch dish, by all means, use that.)

Make the topping:

Cut 1/2 stick butter into small pieces and place in a small bowl. Add 1/2 cup flour and with your fingers, “work” the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like sand. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom and a pinch of salt. Work until it becomes clumpy. If you like nuts, add 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts or almonds. Nuts don’t work? Add equal amount of rolled oats. Place in the refrigerator while you work on the fruit. Make the filling: 3 cups blueberries plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar plus 2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, finely chopped (optional but lovely), zest and juice of 1 lime; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; 1 tablespoon cornstarch or flour; pinch of salt. Stir everything together and pour into greased dish. (a 5-inch dish accommodates 2 cups fruit, by the way.)

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Completely the fruit with the topping (for smaller dishes, you will have leftover topping; it keeps well in fridge) and cover with foil. Bake for 15 minutes, then uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling. Resist the urge to eat while piping hot.