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Blueberry Pancakes

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 Our cottage was horribly outdated – the equivalent of a shaggin’ wagon but with a roof and bunk beds.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.

Tools

mixing bowls
measuring cups
measuring spoons
hand mixer
wooden spoon
frying pan
spatula

Ingredients

2 eggs
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

Instructions

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.

Enjoy!

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Strawberry Shortcake

Summer is driving down red dirt roads and not caring if the branches scratch my car. It’s the feeling of sand slipping through my toes, the individual sun-soaked grains burning the pads of my feet. It’s the salty smell of the ocean.

Summer is Prince Edward Island.

I was born in Newfoundland and grew up in New Brunswick, but PEI has always been my home. My dad’s from the Island, and my grandparents lived there all their lives, so every summer my family would pack up our little station wagon and head over on the ferry to our 70’s-esque cottage in the middle of absolute nowhere.

It had orange shag carpet and these awful carpeted bunk beds, but it was my favourite place in the world. We would spend weeks there, my parents taking me and my sister on long drives through the countryside until we fussed enough for them to take us to the beach.

I spent every Christmas on the Island, my whole family crammed into my grandparent’s house in Charlottetown. My grandmother hadn’t bought new holiday decorations since my dad was a kid, so the place was like walking into the set of It’s a Wonderful Life: flowing tinsel, energy-sucking globe-like bulbs and brilliantly coloured baubles.

My grandparents are both gone now, so my family doesn’t go over to the Island at Christmas, or in the summer either. Since they died, we’ve spent our vacations apart. That was one of the hardest parts about losing them; I was losing the Island too.

I still go back every summer, and it’s amazing how little things have changed. I still get giddy when I see the Sandspit Amusement Park, and the sight of Charlottetown’s narrow streets always make me feel like I’m five years old all over again.

Whenever we visited my grandparents in the summer, my grandmother would almost always have this amazing strawberry shortcake. I wasn’t like the kind my mom brought home from the grocery store, and it always looked weird at first. But once my fork scooped into the buttery biscuit, soaking up all the strawberry juices, there was nothing better in the world.

Tools

colander
cutting board
knife
measuring cups
measuring spoons
three mixing bowls
wooden spoon
electric mixer
pastry blender
baking sheet
cooling racks

Ingredients

Strawberry mixture

1 quart fresh strawberries
1/4 cup sugar

Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons sugar

Biscuits

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup half-and-half (equal parts cream and milk)

Instructions

Wash, hull and quarter berries. Toss them in a bowl with 1/4 cup sugar. Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

In a medium bowl, combine whipping cream, vanilla and 2 teaspoons sugar. Whip until thick. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

To make biscuits, preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut butter into small chunks and combine into dry ingredients with a pastry blender, then with your fingers by rubbing the mixture until it resembles crumbs.

Add the half-and-half and stir until it forms a mass. Gather into a ball. Lightly flour cutting board, then transfer the dough onto it and knead lightly. Roll out dough until it’s 3/4 inch thick. Using a floured round cookie cutter or small mug, cut out circles.

Place biscuits on a baking sheet about one inch apart and bake for about 12 minutes, or until fluffy and golden. Let cool for 15 minutes.

When ready to serve, cut biscuits in half, cover in strawberries and whipped cream, and replace top half. Add more berries to top.

Enjoy!