Wednesday, 26 February 2014
I grew up surrounded by an abundance of wild blueberries, so much so that they were very much taken for granted . . . not those big grape sized ones that we get in the grocery stores over here, but those delicious tasty little pea sized morsels that you can only get from spending back breaking hours in the hot sun to acquire.
Along about the first week of August the ice cream buckets would appear on the kitchen counter, and we kids knew it was blueberry picking time . . . a time we both dreaded and revered all at once. We would spend hours in the blueberry bush, choosing and picking the dainty delicious berries and filling those ice cream buckets, the time only made longer according to how many actually made it into the buckets and how many made it into our tummies!
The warm summer sun and humming insects helping us to feel all cosy and, well . . . part of a family, all co-erced into partaking of this glorious labour! Co-erced by rose coloured memories and the anticipation of pieces of warm, fresh blueberrie pie, the lucious blue juice dripping onto the plate, mingling with runny rivelets of melting fresh vanilla ice cream . . . beautiful puffy lemon coloured muffins studded with those gorgeous purple berries and sprinkled with crusty sugar crumbles on top . . .
. . . light as a cloud buttermilk pancakes bursting full of the sweet lucious beauties, stacked three high, a golden pat of butter melting and gilding the edges, doused in beautifully sweet real maple syrup, the perfect foil . . . we knew as children that the more berries we picked the more of these delights we'd be able to savor over the long winter ahead.
Tired and hot at the end of the day, our fingers stained blue, with blue lips and teeth, sitting around the kitchen table with big bowls of tasty berries sprinkled with sugar and covered in cream. Berrys still warm from the sun, cream cold from the fridge, smiles on all the berry stained faces, knowing we had once again secured this little taste of summer for the winter ahead . . .
Oh how I missed them when I first moved over here to the UK. They were not readily available at all . . . what I wouldn't given at that time for a fresh blueberry pie. When you could find them at all, a premium price was paid for them . . . one that we could only afford as a very rare treat. Thankfully that is no longer the case, and whilst we can't get the lovely wild ones I grew up with, the larger cultivated ones are quite common in the shops now, although they can still be a bit pricey from time to time.
This past autumn we planted some blueberry bushes so that next year, with any luck, we will have our very own tasty source of the little beauties in our garden. Lots of little jewels to make delicious things such as this Blueberry and Almond Breakfast Bake . . . kind of like a baked French Toast . . .
Enticing, heartwarming and a beauty to behold. This pleases me on lots of levels. Eggy and lightly sweetened with a crisp and sweet sugared almond topping. Delicious!
*Blueberry and Almond Breakfast Bake*
You need to plan ahead with this as it needs to be refrigerated overnight. The hardest thing about it will be waiting for it to come out of the oven as it smells fabulous while it is baking!
1 9 inch whole wheat baguette, cut into 1 inch cubes
(about 4 ounces)
250ml of 2% milk (1 cup)
6 large free range eggs
125ml of pure maple syrup (1/2 cup)
pinch salt (optional)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 heaped mug of fresh blueberries (about 1 cup)
a handful of flaked almonds
2 TBS demerara sugar (turbinado)
Maple syrup for pouring (optional)
Spray a 7 by 10 inch baking dish with some nonstick cooking spray. Arrange the bread cubes in the dish. Dust with the cinnamon. Whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla, maple syrup and pinch of salt (if using.) Pour this mixture evenly over top of the bread cubes, making sure the liquid saturates the bread evenly. Scatter the blueberries over top. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds and turbinado sugar. cover with plastic cling film and then refrigerate overnight.
In the morning take it out of the fridge about half an hour before you want to bake it.
Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4. Uncover the dish and then bake for 45 to 50 minutes until the eggs are set and the casserole is lightly browned on top. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes before cutting into quarters to serve. Serve hot with or without more syrup for pouring.
Note: If you are using frozen berries, don't sprinkle them over top until just prior to baking.