For whatever reason, nearly all my best childhood memories have something to do with blueberries. No matter what age or stage in my life I’ve been in, those delicate little blue bulbs have always been a constant, linking me back to where I’ve been and who I’ve become.
One of my first blueberry-stained memories dates back to when I was seven years old, spending my summer at the family cottage in Prince Edward Island. We spent a lot of summers there, but they tend to meld together as one. Our cottage was horribly outdated – the equivalent of a shaggin’ wagon but with a roof and bunk beds. Hell, the bunk beds even had shag carpets.
But we had a field, and I mean a real field, with acres of blueberry patches that would turn the entire landscape blue at peak season. It was glorious, that field, and I spent hours traipsing around it, stuffing the fat, juicy berries in my mouth, saving a few handfuls for my ice cream bucket.
There are a lot of things I remember about those summers spent at our cottage. I recall vividly the metallic beige of my grandfather’s old truck as it sat in the driveway, the slippery feeling of the bottom of my kiddie pool, and the musty smell of the dresser drawers.
We sold that cottage when I was eight, in order to afford our new house. I was devastated at first; the thought of never running through that blueberry patch or having freshly-picked berries and milk for breakfast was too much for me to handle.
But the blueberries never left me. Our new house, the one I spent most my life in and the place my parents still call home, turned out to have its own blueberry field, with even juicier berries that I could enjoy all summer, not just during the short weeks we were in PEI. I would plan my days around berry-picking, getting up early to avoid the hot sun, and getting back out there in the late afternoon, before the mosquitoes got bad. I picked buckets and buckets of berries; I ate a lot of them, but most I just froze. I’m fairly certain some of those berries are still hidden somewhere in my parent’s deep freeze.
The first thing I ever baked was with those blueberries – a recipe for blueberry muffins that I found in one of my mom’s cookbooks. I had no idea what I was doing, so I just threw all the ingredients in a metal bowl and stirred. I didn’t know to melt the butter first, or to stir things in gradually. When my dad found me that afternoon, I was crying, desperately trying to sum up the energy to keep stirring with my spindly little arms – the muffin mix was a certifiable disaster, lumpy and garishly green in colour.
My dad was so sweet. He saw me crying, so whatever urge he had to laugh at my unfortunate attempt at cooking was stifled. He took the bowl from my red little hands, placed it on the warm wood stove and stirred like mad. The sweat was dripping down his bald head, and droplets were falling in the bowl, but I didn’t care. He was trying so hard to fix my mistake.
The only one in my family that shared my enthusiasm for blueberries was my dog, Breagh. They say everyone has that one pet in their life that really gets them in a way that no person ever could- Breagh was mine. When I went on those berry-picking trips, Breagh would come along, racing me down the path that led to our field, always beating me by a good 30 or 40 seconds.
Once I found a decent bush, I would sit my bucket down and get to picking. Breagh, of course, would find a patch nearby, plunk herself in it, and graze at the berries within grabbing distance, pulling off entire stalks in one mouthful. Once she had depleted one radius, she would move on to another, stopping by my bucket on the way to steal a snoutful behind my back. We spent most mornings and evenings like that, in comfortable, ritual silence.
I don’t go down to the field much anymore, even when I’m home visiting. I lost Breagh two years ago to old age; the last pictures I have of her were taken in that field. The few times I have gone down, I looked for her, scanning the green for her reddish coat. It took a while to realize that I was never going to find her. The berries stopped growing the summer after she died, so there hasn’t been much need to walk down there anyway.
I’ve continued to bake that blueberry muffin recipe to this day, and I promise to post it soon. In the meantime, I’ve made my second all-time favorite blueberry dish: pancakes.
1 1/2 cups flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons margarine
1 cup frozen blueberries
Separate eggs, pouring the egg whites and yolks into separate mixing bowls. With mixer, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks. In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add milk and melted butter to the egg yolks and beat. Gradually stir egg yolk mixture into dry ingredients, stirring well after each addition. Stir in egg whites and add blueberries.
Coat the bottom of frying pan with cooking oil, bring to a sizzle, and pour 1/4 cup batter per pancake onto the skillet. Cook for 5-7 minutes on medium, flip and cook until golden.