Michigan Trip + Blueberry Muffins

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Hey, guys! How was your 4th of July?? I hope it was full of good eating and safe fireworking! We spent our 4th on the road, on our first road trip of the season! We were in Michigan for a few days, stopping in all the adorable lakeside towns we could find. We made a stop at the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City and ate plenty of cherry pie, cherry donuts, and cherry salsa (SO.GOOD.). We ended by spending some time in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, Sleeping Bear Dunes.

On our way back to the city, we stopped to grab some blueberries from a roadside fruit stand. (Did you know that the western swath of Michigan is part of America’s fruit belt? What a perfect place to be when practically every beautiful fruit is in season.)¬†Blueberries are native to the United States, and Michigan is one of the top producers of the berry.

Native Americans have been using the wild plant for centuries, usually combining it with meat and fat to form pemmican, or adding it to cornmeal bread, or using it as a dye for clothing. But wild blueberries are not the blueberries that you find in stores. In the early 20th century, a botanist named Frederick Coville began experimenting with ways to domesticate wild blueberries. He published his findings in 1910, revealing that wild blueberries thrived in acidic soil, and his work was read¬†by a cranberry farmer’s daughter living in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, named Elizabeth Coleman White. She had often noticed wild blueberries growing near her family’s cranberry bogs, so she reached out to Coville, inviting him to her farm to continue his study of how the wild fruit could be bred as a viable season-lengthening crop. Coville, with the funding of White’s father, was able to work with local residents who knew where the the best wild plants were located. For five years, locals would bring Coville wild berry plants. Coville, in turn, would attempt to cultivate the wild plants. Only a handful of the 100 plants that were brought to Coville proved successful. In 1916, Coville and White sent their first domesticated blueberries to market. It’s hard to believe that “tame” blueberries have only been available for a little over 100 years.

Blueberries are on the menu today because… it’s National Blueberry Muffin Day, and on top of that, July is National Blueberry Month! So let’s celebrate!

I have the best memories of my mom making blueberry muffins (from a box) on Saturday mornings, biting into the warm muffins too soon and getting burned by little molten lava blueberries. I also have great memories of just destroying the cartons of blueberries my mom would buy in the summer. I think I was trying to get all my nutrients in one sitting.

Anyway, this recipe for blueberry muffins is not from a box, but it’s still weekend-morning-easy to make, and makes tall and fluffy muffins that aren’t too sweet (very important to me, when it comes to muffins) and are just stuffed to the gills with fresh blueberries. They are what you want in the morning and also any other time of the day.

For the muffin recipe, I tweaked the no-fail pancake recipe that I’ve been using for over a decade. The pancakes are delicious, I thought, so why not try it. The results did not disappoint.

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Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 muffins.

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk, plus two tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar)
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups blueberries, washed and dried

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl.

In a large measuring cup, or small mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, butter, egg, and vanilla extract. Whisk to combine. (If you don’t have buttermilk, you can instead use 1 cup whole milk, combined with 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar. If you use this method, combine these items and allow to sit for five minutes before adding the butter, egg, and vanilla.)

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. (If the mixture is still a little dry, you can add up to a 1/4 cup of whole milk, one tablespoon at a time. The mixture should still be quite lumpy, but should not be clumping together or have any dry streaks.) Carefully fold in blueberries, without too much additional stirring.

Allow the batter to rest for about 10 minutes at room temperature.

Fill a muffin tin with paper liners. Spoon the mixture into the top of each liner. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the pan 180 degrees and continue baking for another 10 minutes. (You can begin checking for doneness at the 18 minute mark. When done, the top of the muffin should spring back when gently pressed.)

Remove the muffins from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Eat right away, or remove to a wire rack until completely cooled.

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I believe these muffins will be making a regular appearance in my house from here on out. The recipe only makes twelve muffins, because I find that they don’t keep for very long, and while they’re good, 12 muffins seems sufficient for most households. However, the recipe could easily be doubled if you have guests or are a blueberry muffin monster.

Also, if you have any good recipes that use blueberries, please pass them on. I still have lots and I cannot sit back and watch these precious babies go bad. Back in May, I made blueberry rhubarb pandowdy. I’m thinking of doing it again, this time swapping out the rhubarb for some delicious, sweet peaches that I’ve had my eye on.

I hope you’re taking full advantage of blueberry/fruit season. If you follow this blog, or my social media, I will apologize now for the inundation of fruit-related recipes/photos that are to come. You’ve been warned!

 

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Cheddar (Beaver Dam) Pepper Scones with (Beaver Dam) Pepper Jelly

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It’s fall, y’all! WHERE is my life going? It’s been hard to identify that it’s fall now because, like many other places, we’ve had a heat wave for much of the last week here in Chicago. For the last few weeks, we have been spending our weekends going on as many day-trips as possible. A few weekends back, Alex and I and our friends, David and Quinn, road-tripped up to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, and then back down through Milwaukee for tiki drinks. Beaver Dam is an adorable little town in Dodge County, Wisconsin, that has received a bit of attention the last few years because of the rise in popularity of its Beaver Dam Pepper.

Last month, I interviewed Jennifer Breckner, who is the chair of the Slow Food Midwest Ark of Taste Committee. I had so many things that I wanted to share about Jennifer, that I hardly had a chance to explain what the Midwest Ark of Taste actually is. According to their website, it is a “catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction.” The work of the group involves identifying these varietals and championing them, by educating chefs and the public about them, growing them in the Slow Food garden, and using them as ingredients in the annual Farm Roast fundraiser. The motto of the group is “Eat it to save it.” I came across the Beaver Dam Pepper in the Ark’s catalog and instantly became interested in the history of this particular pepper.

Incredibly, the seeds of the Beaver Dam pepper were smuggled into the country from Hungary in 1912 by the Hussli family. They settled in Beaver Dam, and began growing the medium-hot peppers just as they had in Hungary. However, though they were loved by the Hussli’s and others in Beaver Dam, they were never necessarily sought-after.

The Beaver Dam Pepper finally got its moment in the sun when a German woman named Leah Green, living in Chicago, went in search of a farmer still growing the pepper. She found John Hendrickson of Stone Circle Farm in Reeseville, Wisconsin. He agreed to sell the few peppers that he was growing at the time. Green began using these specific peppers to make various products. Meanwhile in Beaver Dam, Diana Ogle, who runs a marketing and PR company, was looking for a way to promote a local shopping center and, after hearing about Beaver Dam Pepper celebrations springing up in Chicago and Milwaukee, thought it was time to bring the Beaver Dam Pepper Festival home. For one day in September, the local pepper is celebrated with a pepper chili cook-off, an apple pepper pie eating contest, and an apple pepper pancake and sausage breakfast. 2017 marked the fourth year of the Festival celebrating the history of Beaver Dam and its namesake pepper.

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We all had a great time and I bought two pounds of peppers, and decided to make cheddar pepper scones, as well as a pepper jelly to go with them (one of my favorite things!). I’ll be honest, this is really an overnight recipe. But! Once you’ve done all the work, it’s really just a quick egg wash and twenty minutes of baking and you’re in business. A perfect Sunday morning treat.

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Cheddar (Beaver Dam) Pepper Scones with (Beaver Dam) Pepper Jelly
Makes six large scones.

Ingredients:

For pepper jelly:
1/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp water
1/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 large peppers (you can substitute poblano peppers if you don’t have any Beaver Dam peppers)
1 pouch unflavored gelatin

For scones:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk, very cold
1 egg, plus 1 egg for egg wash
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and still warm
2 tsp olive oil or unsalted butter
2 large peppers (you can substitute poblano peppers for Beaver Dam peppers), chopped into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup sharp cheddar, shredded
Sea salt, optional

Instructions:

For pepper jelly:
Sterilize a 1 pint mason jar. (Here is an example of how to do this, if you’ve never done it before.)

In a food processor, combine the peppers and half of the vinegar. Process until the peppers are minced.

Add cold water to a small saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin over the top and allow to set for one minute. Turn on heat to medium and stir until gelatin is dissolved.

Add the pepper mixture, remaining vinegar, and sugar to the gelatin mixture. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, while stirring constantly.

Pour into sterilized jars, seal, and refrigerate overnight to set.

For scones:
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Set aside.

In a glass measuring cup, add the egg and buttermilk and beat together. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes.

In a skillet, add the peppers and 2 tsp olive oil (butter may be substituted). Cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Remove from the pan and allow to drain and cool on a paper towel.

Melt the butter. Remove the buttermilk egg mixture from the freezer. It should be very cold, but not frozen. Mix the butter into the buttermilk with a fork. You will see the butter begin to seize up into little globs. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it all comes together. Add the shredded cheddar and the peppers. Stir until thoroughly mixed.

Pour the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead once or twice to make sure everything comes together. The mixture should still be very shaggy.

Form the mixture into an 8-inch circle. Cut the circle into 6 even wedges. Wrap each wedge in plastic wrap and refrigerate over night, but not longer than 48 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Remove each wedge from the plastic wrap, place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Beat one egg and brush the top of each wedge thoroughly. If you wish, you can sprinkle each with a bit of sea salt.

Bake for 17-20 minutes, until puffed and golden. Enjoy warm with a smear of pepper jelly!

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And, if you know of any other festivals like this one, celebrating a local fruit or vegetable, that you think is worth a visit, please let me know. My tentative plan for Summer 2018 is to go on one massive road trip, festival hopping. And if you haven’t checked out the Ark’s catalog, you should. Maybe you’re familiar with one of the items on the list. Maybe you’re even doing your part already and growing one of them in your back yard. What a cool kid you would be!

Thanks for the memories, Beaver Dam!