Thursday, July 22, 2010
Big Blueberry Bake Sale Bars
Blueberries are special to me. More than any other food, they evoke a Proustian quality of memory. My childhood was far from perfect, and my recollections of those years are often tinged with sadness and loss. But where blueberries are concerned, there are, in my mind, only happy associations. Of course there are the ones you would expect - summer, picnics, ice cream, and pie, but there are more, too - nurturing, hope, freedom, possibility, and even love.
I took my girls picking today. What blueberry memories will they have? For me it might be the remembered flavor of a handful of berries the color of comfortable denim, snatched in passing, eaten with one hand while wandering the rows, a tattered paperback in my other hand, the morning mist around the blueberry bushes just beginning to dissipate. Or the sheen of a berry might remind me of the exact color of my Dad's blue Buick in October, covered with the first frost of the year. What unbidden images will flavor my daughters' blueberry dreams?
I spent my high school summers working at a U-pick blueberry farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, which meant that I spent most of my time sunbathing, or when it got too hot, sitting in a comfortable rocker in an open-sided shed reading piles of books, eating blueberries, and petting the calico cat. Occasionally I would weigh buckets, direct visitors to the best rows, and make change. If I felt ambitious, I picked buckets of blueberries to take home. We froze them in empty Chock Full O Nuts coffee cans, and then reached into them for berries to adorn winter pancakes, or muffins, or blueberry bars.
For one weekend every summer, the farm became very busy. During the annual Blueberry Festival, which was a fundraiser to benefit the Susquehanna County Library and Historical Society, people came to pick berries for the bake sale. My family always baked something like these blueberry bars. The crust is not too rich - more like a scone than a cookie or pastry. We cut them into big slabs (to evoke that "little hands" feeling), put them on a napkin, and charged a dollar. People went crazy for them. I've altered and improved on the recipe since then.
Big Blueberry Bake-Sale Bars
4 C flour, divided
1/2 C + 3 T sugar
5 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 C cold butter, cut into pieces
1 C cream or half-and-half or milk
2 beaten eggs
4 C blueberries
4 t cornstarch
1 C confectioner's sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 C melted butter
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter an 11 X 15" sheet pan.
2. In a medium bowl, combine 3 C of the flour, the 3 T of sugar, the baking powder, the salt, and the lemon zest. Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, cut in the 1/2 C cold butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center; set aside.
3. Combine the cream and the eggs with a whisk. Add all at once to the flour mixture. Using a fork, stir until just moistened. Spread the dough onto the 11 X 15" pan. Hands are best for this. Work the dough into all four corners of the pan.
4. Mix the blueberries, 1/2 C sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice. Spread this mixture over the crust.
5. For the streusel topping - Combine the melted butter, 1 C flour, confectioner's sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl and mix with your fingers until moist and crumbly. Crumble over the top of the blueberries and press in gently.
6. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes, until the top is slightly golden brown. Let cool completely, cut into hand-sized squares. Enjoy!