Last weekend, I was up in Michigan visiting my best friend from college.
We met our freshman year in choir and share a love for all things nerdy, musical, and yes, food. We’re even in a band together, but to be fair, it happened after we graduated.
This is the third summer I’ve gone to visit her on the lake. Last summer, a bunch of us went blueberry picking and I went home with 10 pounds of sweet, Michigan blueberries. At the time I thought so many berries was overkill, but I froze away what I didn’t use immediately and it was a treat to have access to blueberries in the dead of Iowa winter.
This year, Anden and I went back to the same grove, but we went at the last possible second, 40 minutes before close on a Sunday. Silly of us to expect we could waltz right in there and pick up a ten pound box of pre-picked berries (which they usually have available) and be on our way. So when we were informed that they were fresh out and we would have to pick our own, it became a mad race to see how many blueberries we could pick in 40 minutes.
Picking your own blueberries is a lot of fun, especially when you have time to stroll through and eat them as you go. Word to the wise, don’t make the same mistake we did! If you just want blueberries in bulk, call ahead to make sure the grove has blueberries available, or be prepared to give yourself a couple of hours for picking. U-pick is usually cheaper per pound, so it’s worth a day-trip if you can manage it!
We ended up with just over 6 lbs by closing time and my mind was reeling with the possibilities. The first that came to mind was a go-to recipe from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day, baked oatmeal.
The published version uses bananas and huckleberries, but as Heidi mentions in the description, it’s a versatile dish that works with a number of different fruit combinations. I adapted her recipe for the summer season and used fresh, Missouri peaches in place of the bananas.
Peaches and blueberries are great for almost any cooking application because no matter how you prepare them, the heat of cooking makes them even juicier, sweeter, and more flavorful than if you had just eaten them raw. They are a match made in heaven and they paired brilliantly together in the baked oatmeal.
Blueberry and Peach Baked Oatmeal
Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s, Super Natural Every Day
2 firm peaches
1 1/2 cups blueberries
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup walnuts
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups milk
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup honey
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Cut the peaches into slices the same way you would for the lavender kebabs.
Spray an 8 inch round cake pan with cooking oil spray (or dab some on a paper towel and wipe down the pan until it’s coated). Arrange the peaches in a layer on the bottom of the pan (reserve 6 for the topping) and add 2/3 of the berries.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, baking powder, half of the walnuts, cinnamon, and salt. Toss them together with your hands or or a wooden spoon until well combined. Sprinkle this over the peaches and blueberries and give the pan a gentle shake to spread the oats into an even layer. Arrange the peaches on top and sprinkle the remaining blueberries and walnuts on top.
In the bowl that used to hold the oat mixture, whisk together the milk, egg, honey, and vanilla extract. If your ingredients are all cold, it may take a while to incorporate the honey, but you can heat everything gently on the stove (don’t let the egg cook!) to help things out. Pour this mixture over the oats and fruit.
Give the pan another gentle shake to even things out, then place on a rack in the middle of your pre-heated oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is golden and the oat mixture is set. You can tell it’s ready if you shake the pan a bit and it doesn’t jiggle like a liquid.
I love this recipe because it’s really easy to prepare the night before. Just set up the oats and fruit in the pan and mix together the wet ingredients and hold them in a 1 quart mason jar. Hold these separately in the fridge and in the morning, pour the milk mixture into the pan, put it in a cold oven and set it for 375. By the time I’ve walked the dog, fed the cat, showered and gotten ready for the day, the whole apartment smells like baked berries and cinnamon and it’s the perfect way to start the day.
This next recipe is something I did last year, but I couldn’t work out the right proportions before I ran out of supplies. This year, I finally got it where I want it.
Blueberry Thyme and Honey Pie
There are two ingredients common to baking that I avoid like the plague: cornstarch and shortening. This makes finding pie recipes kind of difficult. Cornstarch and other thickeners are almost always used in fruit pies to thicken the filling, and most cooks I know swear by Crisco crusts. I had to develop the recipe for the filling on my own, but Food52 came to the rescue with a fantastic vegan pie crust that uses coconut oil and ice water.
4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 cup honey
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 ½ tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
Food 52’s Vegan Pie Crust:
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup solid coconut oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp demerara (raw) sugar, or cane sugar
1/3-1/2 cup ice water
To make the filling, combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until bubbly, about 10-15 minutes.
This is when the cornstarch-free magic happens. One of the major issues with the original recipe was how runny the filling was. I couldn’t figure out how to thicken it without cornstarch or arrowroot, etc. until I got a tip from The Splendid Table‘s Lynn Rosetto Casper: drain the liquid off and boil it down until it thickens. This was a baking revelation. It’s hard to explain how much and why I despise using cornstarch in baking, but until I heard it from Lynn, I thought my hand would be forced if I wanted to salvage the pie.
It’s really easy to do. After you pull the berries off the stove, place a colander over a bowl and pour the berries in to drain. Use a spoon to move the berries around and drain as much of the liquid off as possible to go back into the saucepan.
This trick works like a charm, especially if you use your spoon to smash some of the blueberries and let the naturally occurring pectin help thicken it.
Set the pan over med heat and let it go. This will take a while to boil down, and you’ll have to stir it every once in a while so the bottom doesn’t burn. You’ll know it’s ready when you can drag a wooden spoon across the bottom of the saucepan and it takes a second for the liquid to fill in. While the liquid is boiling down, prepare the crust.
Add the flour, salt, and sugar to a large bowl. Use a knife or pastry cutter to chop and fold in the solid coconut oil until the mix is crumbly. Coconut oil has a pretty high melting point, so if your kitchen is a little toasty, it tends to liquify pretty easily. If your coconut oil is a clear puddle in the jar, it helps to stick it in the freezer for about 10 minutes. If your oil is semi-solid, mix the dry ingredients together first, then add the oil and stick the whole thing in the fridge until it’s cold and firm. Once you get a solid, crumbly mixture, add 1/3 cup of ice water and use clean, floured hands to form a ball. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut it in half with a sharp knife.
If one half is slightly larger than the other, it’s not a big deal. Use the bigger half to line the pie tin. The easiest way to roll your dough into a circle is to start from the middle and work your way out. It’s also all right if it’s not a perfect circle, because we have ways to fix that.
Let this firm in the fridge for about 10 minutes before you fill it. Now for the top. Roll the second ball into as round a disk as possible, then use a pizza cutter to cut 3/4 inch strips to make the lattice top.
How to Build a Lattice Pie Top
Optional: Sprinkle the top of the pie with more demerara sugar for a sweet crunch!
Bake for 35 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven, then let cool for about 15 minutes before serving.
What I enjoy most about this pie is that it’s not loaded down with sugar, so the natural tartness of the blueberries peeks through the honey-sweetened filling. I also love the way this smells when it’s baking. I’m originally from the east coast, so the blueberry and thyme combination smells exactly like Maine. I’m in love.