Mid-summer and the blueberries are ripe and what memories they conjure up in my mind. Blueberry picking was a special time in my childhood. We lived in the city where blueberries would have been a rare spectacle on the side of a vacant lot or hillside. We'd take the Fleetline Bus from St. John's as far as Kelligrews now part of the Town of Conception Bay South. You can now drive the distance in about 20-25 minutes but back in the late 1950s and early '60s the bus trip must have taken closer to an hour or more as the bus made stops along the way. The speed limit was probably no more than 40 mph (about 65 kph) along the old Conception Bay Highway.
At that time Kelligrews was sparsely settled with houses and there were wonderful hills full of the dusky, dark blue berries just ready for picking. We'd get off the bus, loaded with a wonderful picnic lunch, a picnic blanket and as many containers as we could carry. This was before Tupperware containers had become popular so our containers were mostly metal cake or cookie cans with tight fitting lids. I don't ever remember taking any kind of plastic tub--we just didn't have any at our house. We might have had a plastic or tin mug for my sister and me to put our berries in, but most of ours went in our mouths.
We'd walk a short way from the road, past any houses and along a river and further into the scrubby wooded areas where the berries would be abundant. Blueberries grow well in our acidic Newfoundland soil. Mom and Dad would start some serious picking as soon as we got to the right spot. Heather and I would trail behind or stay by the picnic blanket and pick (or I should say eat) our berries. We could always see at least one parent as they made their way up the little hill. If they should both disappear into the bushes we'd holler until we got a response from one or both parents.
Sometimes Uncle Ken and Aunt Amy would come with us which gave us two more adults to take care of. But the highlight of berry picking season would be when my grandmother came along. We would pile into a couple of cars with aunts, uncles, cousins and Nanny and head out to some secret destination known for its superior berry picking. All the adults, except Nan would scatter over the hills. The children would wander around from bush to bush, sometimes following their parents or finding their own spot to eat berries. Nanny, who was unable to walk well because of arthritis, would be settled into a lawn chair close to a berry bush and to my amazement would fill her little cup to the brim by bending over to pick the berries. I would be lucky if the bottom of my cup was covered because so many had made their way into my little belly.
Every now-and-again an adult would come back to the "Berry Picking Home Base" (the blanket) and leave an overflowing container of berries in exchange for an empty one. Dire warnings would be given to the children not to touch, spill or eat the berries, but sometimes a handful would be left in our almost empty cup.
Blueberries Don picked this week.
After a few hours of picking Mom and the aunts would come back and start getting the picnic lunch ready. It would be a full meal--not just a few sandwiches. There would be sandwiches, of course, bread and butter or rolls, salads, cake and cookies, juice, and one time when we went by car Mom brought a full cooked turkey! After eating, while everyone was cleaning up, a few of the men might try another half hour of picking before climbing back into the cars for the trip home.
If we went by ourselves on the bus we'd toddle off to the side of the road and wait til it came by to pick us up. It was a drowsy trip back home for me. We'd reach St. John's just before dark and have a long uphill trudge home. Mom and Dad would carry the precious berries and the now empty lunch bags. Heather and I would drag our weary bodies up that much-hated hill to home to the encouraging words "We're almost home".
Next day Mom would have a blueberry pudding or an upside-down cake ready to eat with our dinner. How good they tasted. Sometimes she'd make a blueberry cake or pie as well and there would always be enough for a bowl of berries and milk. I don't remember Mom making muffins, although she may have.
This is a Blueberry Muffin recipe I've been making for years. You can make them plain, with a sugar topping or as a Lemon Blueberry Muffin.
1½ cups flour
¾ cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
¼ cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup blueberries (or frozen can be used)
2 tablespoons coarse sugar, optional
½ teaspoon cinnamon, optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners or grease or pan spray.
In a large bowl, sift or stir together the flour, white sugar, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl beat the egg, milk and oil together. Add the vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid ingredients. Mix lightly until barely combined. Add the blueberries and mix through.
Fill the muffin pan, dividing the batter evenly. Sprinkle each muffin with ½ teaspoon of sugar or a sugar/cinnamon mixture if desired. The sugar is not necessary but gives the muffins a nice crunchy top.
Bake 18-20 minutes in the preheated oven.
Makes 12 muffins.
Lemon Blueberry Muffins
Add the following to the milk and egg mixture and mix and bake as directed:
½ teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
I use an ice cream scoop to fill the muffin cups. I used turbinado sugar and cinnamon to top one batch.
Plain or. . .
. . . with a sugar cinnamon topping. . .
These Blueberry Muffins hit the spot for a mid-summer treat. Try them with or without a pat of butter.
Don't forget to try the lemon option.
Blueberry Muffins--perfect with a glass of milk.