National Cookie Day + Speculaas

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Did you all survive Thanksgiving? We had the best time in our new place, with old friends who trekked all the way up here so that I could make them various carb casseroles and fill them with wine. Then we slept in and ate pie for breakfast. It was the best. And later this week, we’ll get our tree, after which we will reward our hard work by making mulled wine, eating Jet’s pizza and watching Hallmark movies for the rest of the night. We may also eat a salad, because geez, our diets are really screwed up by holiday eating and my pants are already starting to object.

Until I full-on can’t fit into my pants anymore, we’re talking cookies! If you’ve stepped foot on Instagram today, you’ve probably noticed that today is #nationalcookieday. Obviously, December is peak cookie-making time, not only in the United States, but around the world. Obviously, sweets have been making an appearance at special events since early times, but how did the cookie become synonymous with Christmas?

Europeans have been making cookies around Christmas since at least the 1500s. It was also around this time that gingerbread, as a sweetened form of cake, gained popularity in Britain. Gingerbread was not yet considered a Christmas tradition, but was instead used in various instances of “wooing,” with gingerbread men even being used by Queen Elizabeth I as a gift to dignitaries.

Gingerbread cookies have been made for almost that long, employing some variation of sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, all spices that were brought back to Europe during and after the Crusades. And while gingerbread didn’t become associated with Christmas-time in Britain until the reign of Queen Victoria, gingerbread-type cookies called speculaas have been made in the Netherlands and Belgium since at least the 1600s. The cookies are often large and imprinted with a cookie press, depicting a variety of scenes. It is even rumored that woodcarvers could design their own cookie mold, portraying their profession, and give it to the woman they hoped to marry. There is no definite proof of the name’s history, but it’s said that it may come from the Latin word “speculum,” which means “mirror,” because of the mirror image imprint that a cookie stamp would leave behind. Another theory is that the name is taken from the Dutch word for spice, “specerij.”

Speculaas/Speculoos, to Americans, might mean the delicious cookie butter you can buy at Trader Joe’s. However, in the Low Countries, speculaas is most often made to celebrate St. Nicholas Day, which is celebrated in early December by Western Christians, and in mid-December by Eastern Christians. St. Nicholas Day celebrates the feast of St. Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek saint who was said to have secretly given gifts and performed miracles. On St. Nicholas Day eve, children set shoes (instead of stockings) out by the door, hoping that Nicholas might leave a small present inside their shoe for them to find the next day.

And while making cookies around Christmas has been happening in Europe for centuries, the Dutch are credited with bringing the “Christmas cookie” to the United States. This Dutch tradition probably arrived first in what is today New York state’s Dutchess County-area. The English word “cookie” is also of Dutch origin. Koekjes were tiny “cakes” made when cooks used a small amount of batter to test their ovens before baking cake.

We in America do not only owe our Christmas cookie traditions to the Dutch, but our Santa Claus himself. Santa Claus’ name is derived from the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas. It is said that Santa Claus may have become an American tradition during the Revolutionary War when, more than 100 years after their ancestors arrived from the Netherlands, colonists in New York were attempting to dissociate themselves from their British enemies and embrace their Dutch heritage.

Even speculaas butter, the Trader Joe’s cookie butter that we all love–which I was sure was an American invention–actually has roots in the Netherlands and Belgium. Workers in those countries were known to make a speculaas “sandwich” of the cookies and butter. By mid-day, the butter would have softened the cookie to a spreadable amalgam.

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Speculaas
Makes 10-12 large cookies, or 20-24 large cookies. This recipe is an adaptation of one from the New York Times.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp coriander
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp orange zest
2-3 tbsp milk, whole

Instructions: 

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth.

Stir in the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and coriander.

Finally, stir in the almond extract, orange zest, and milk. The mixture should hold when pinched together. If it doesn’t, add one tablespoon of milk at a time until it does.

Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least two hours, or up to overnight.

After refrigerated, roll the dough out on a floured surface to 1/8-inch thick.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Cut out shapes using cooking cutters or stamps, placing the cutouts onto cookie sheets. Continue to roll out the remaining dough until you have used all of it.

Bake cookies for 20 minutes, rotating once halfway through cooking. Allow to cool for five minutes on the cookie sheet before removing to cooling rack.

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If you’re not into crisp cookies (like me), you might not love these cookies. Though I am considering making them again, just to turn them into an icebox cake. But the history of these cookies is the most interesting part, like most of what I write about here. These old recipes have mostly become well-worn American ideas, but it is exciting (at least to me!) to dig up their stories and show how our traditions in the United States have been shaped over the centuries. Happy National Cookie Day, y’all!

Happy Halloween + Flies’ Graveyard

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Happy Halloween! This is my favorite, favorite holiday, and I’m so excited. We did go out last Saturday, when it was pouring rain, and today we are waking up to snow, so… welcome to Halloween in the Midwest.

Today we’re going to talk a little bit about the origins of Halloween in the United States, many of which we owe to ancient traditions in Ireland and Scotland. The origins of Halloween can be traced back to the pre-Christian Gaelic festival of Samhain, or summer’s end. While Samhain was determined by the end of the harvest, it was also known as a time when feasts were held for dead loved ones, and the spirits of the Otherworld could enter this world. Because of this belief, bonfires were a common part of a Samhain celebration, as they were thought to protect humans and ward off any evil spirits who crossed the boundary.

Because fire was regarded as protective, in Ireland, root vegetables were carved–mostly turnips in Scotland–into faces, and a light was placed inside to ward off evil spirits. Still used today, the name Jack O’Lantern comes from an Irish legend about a man named “Stingy Jack,” a drunk with such a bad reputation that the devil himself sought him out. According to some variations of the story, Jack twice tricked the devil into buying him food and drink, both times escaping the devil’s plans for him. Tricking the devil again by striking a deal that he would never be taken to Hell, Jack lived to old age. However, at his death, he was turned away from the gates of Heaven for his bad lifestyle. He then attempted to enter Hell, but was also turned away, the devil now keeping his promise to never take him. So Stingy Jack is forced to wander the netherworld for eternity, with only an ember inside of a turnip to light his way.

Even trick-or-treating has its origins in Samhain. Known as “mumming” or “guising,” the practice involved people dressing in costume and going door to door to receive treats. It’s said that the disguises were worn in an attempt to walk among the supernatural beings who had entered the world through the weakened threshold. Later, this became a practice for children, who would go door to door, sometimes performing songs or tricks in exchange for treats or coins.

Over time, with the arrival of Christianity, the celebrations of Samhain began to meld with All Hallow’s Eve, which was the night before the celebration of All Saints’ Day on November 1st. Halloween traditions gained traction in the United States with the mass arrival of Irish and Scottish immigrants in the 19th century.

In honor of the festival of Samhain, today’s recipe is a treat from Britain often called a fruit slice, but alternatively known by the ghoulish name, “flies’ graveyard.” (Maybe Halloween is the only day I could get away with making such a gross and peculiar dessert. Halloween is good for so many reasons.) This dessert, also known as a flies’ cemetery, is called such because the filling, which is usually composed of currants or raisins, looks like dead flies caught in a trap. Yum.

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Flies Graveyard
Makes 9-16 squares.

Ingredients:
For pastry: 1 3/4 cups flour, plus more for rolling dough
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
3/4 tsp lemon zest
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg

For filling: 2 1/4 cups cranberries
1 1/4 cup dark raisins
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp, plus 2 tsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp lemon zest
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla

For top of pastry: 1 egg
1 tbsp milk or cream
2 tsp sugar

Instructions: 

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking soda.

Add butter and sugar to a large bowl and beat until very smooth and almost completely white in color, about five minutes.

Add the lemon zest, vanilla, and egg, and beat until just incorporated.

Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture in three batches, beating each batch until it’s just incorporated.

After you’ve added all the flour, begin pulling the mixture together. Divide in half. Form both portions into a disk. Wrap the two disks with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 1/2 hours, or as long as overnight.

Place the cranberries into a food processor (you can also chop by hand). Buzz a few times until the cranberries are in smaller pieces, but not yet purified. Add the raisins (if using a food processor) and buzz just a time or two to slightly break up the raisins. Add both to a heavy bottomed saucepan. To the saucepan, add water, sugar, flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt. Mix together and then bring to a boil over medium heat, for about 15 minutes total cook time. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Allow to cool to room temperature.

While the filling is cooling, roll out one of the disks 1/8-inch thick and place in the bottom of a 8 x 8-inch pan. Gently press to fit the pan, and cut an edge about 1 centimeter up the sides of the pan. Fill this pastry with the cooled filling and spread smooth.

Roll the second disk 1/8-inch thick. Lay it over the pastry filling. Cut the edges off and gently press to the bottom pastry edges to seal it.

Beat the egg with the heavy cream and brush it over the top. Sprinkle with sugar.

Place the pastry in the freezer as you preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Allow to cool completely before cutting and serving.

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For my version of this flies’ graveyard, I used a combination of cranberries and raisins–and fly’s eyes, newt’s noses, frog’s ears, and whatever else was on sale during October.

What are you doing for Halloween this year? Do you have kiddies who are dressed to mingle safely with the wandering ghosts? Did you carve any lanterns in honor of the lost soul of Stingy Jack? Will you catch a few flies in your pastry and bake them up crisp? God I love Halloween. Happy ghouling!

Canada Day + Butter Tarts

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Today is Canada Day! Similar to our 4th of July in the US, Canada Day is a national holiday that celebrates the anniversary of the Constitution Act of 1867, which united the three provinces of Canada–Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia–into the unified country of Canada. It’s often referred to as “Canada’s birthday.”

So I decided to celebrate our neighbors from the Great White North by making what must be one of their greatest culinary contributions to the world: Butter tarts. Think of a more buttery and less sweet pecan pie, baked into individual tarts. This fine little dessert is one of the few pastries considered truly Canadian.

Having existed for hundreds of years, there is no proof of the exact origin of the butter tart, but there are several theories on when and how the butter tarts were created.

The butter tart is perhaps most closely associated with the filles à marier (marriageable girls), also known as the filles du roi (King’s daughters), a group of nearly 800 young women who were sent to Canada between of the years of 1663 and 1673 as part of a program sponsored by Louis XIV. The program’s intentions were to increase the number of French citizens in “New France” by sending women to marry and have children with the French men who had already settled in Canada, and also to entice more men to immigrate to Canada, whose population at the time would have consisted of many more men than women. The program worked: Over the ten-year period in which the women were sent, New France’s population more than doubled.

It is said that the influx of the King’s daughters caused the invention of the butter tart, since the newly arrived women took on the duties of the home, including cooking, and used local ingredients, such as maple syrup. The butter tart was likely predated by the sugar pie, or tarte au sucre, and eventually raisins and pecans–critical but divisive ingredients in the butter tart–were added later. While today butter tarts are closely associated with the Ontario (English-speaking) area of Canada, and are somewhat similar to the British treacle tart, it might be that the tarts got their start in the French-speaking areas of Canada, such as Quebec, the first of the three ports that the King’s daughters would have been able to disembark.

As with many recipes, butter tarts became especially popular in Canada in the 1920’s and 30’s, after recipes were published in newspapers that reached a much wider group of home bakers. Today they are widely available throughout Canada and an annual Butter Tart festival is held every year in Midland, Ontario.

Even among the most polite Canadians, there are arguments about what makes a true butter tart. Some Canadians are vehemently against the addition of raisins, while others say that it isn’t a true butter tart without them. (To complicate the current raisin-or-no-raisin-argument, recipes printed in the early 20th-century include not raisins, but currants.) Additionally, some think that the filling should be gooey and runny when you bite into it, while others think the filling should be firm.

For the texture of the butter tarts shown here, I split the difference: This filling doesn’t ooze when you bite into it, but it’s not firm either. Also, I went with a pecan topping, and dropped the raisins–maybe I’m just an American with a partiality to pecan pie.

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Canadian Butter Tarts 
Makes 12 small tarts.

Ingredients: 
Your favorite pie dough, enough to make one bottom crust of a pie. I like this one.
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped, or 1/2 cup raisin, chopped.

Instructions:

Lightly grease one 12-cup cupcake tin and allow to chill in refrigerator as you prepare your butter tart crusts.

Roll out pie pastry to 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 12 circles, 4 1/2-inches in diameter (you want them to be approximately the size of a cupcake liner.)

Press each circle of dough into the cupcake cups, pressing as needed to fit the cup. Return to the refrigerator as you prepare your filling.

If you are using pecans, finely chop and measure after chopping. If using raisins, soak them in hot water for at least fifteen minutes. Drain, pat dry, and chop finely.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix together brown sugar, maple syrup, and melted butter until thoroughly combined. Add in egg and vanilla and mix to combine.

Remove the cupcake tin from refrigerator, and fill the bottom of each tart with finely chopped pecans or raisins.

Fill each tart about halfway with brown sugar mixture. (It will bake up further in the oven.)

Bake tarts for five minutes at 400 degrees. Then, lower the oven to 375 degrees and continue baking for 12-15 minutes, until the top is bubbly and no longer jiggles if you shake the cupcake tin.

Allow the tarts to cool completely in the tin before enjoying.

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The chopped pecans rise to the top of the tart, and become slightly crisp, while there is a gooey, buttery (but not too sweet!) layer underneath. It’s like a less-sweet, individual version of the pecan pie. I am certainly not claiming that this version is as good as anyone in Canada can make. However, if this is any indication of what the Canadian version is like, count me in.

Happy Canada Day!

Purim + Ginger Pear Hamantaschen

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Yay! It’s the first day of spring. Finally! We’ve had several days of sun and 40-plus degree weather. I think the warm weather is finally on its way and I’m ready for it.

In addition to Spring springing, Purim also begins this evening. Purim is a Jewish holiday, celebrated from sunset to nightfall of the next day. The celebration of Purim dates back to the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus (likely the king now known as Xerxes I, or Artaxerxes I). The Jewish holiday celebrates the delivery of the Jewish people from genocide by the hand of the King’s royal vizier, Haman, as well as the bravery of Queen Esther.

According to the book of Esther in the Jewish Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and the Christian Old Testament, King Ahasuerus chose a beautiful young woman named Esther as his second wife, after his first wife, Vashti, disobeyed him at a festival. Esther, therefore, became Queen of Persia. However, Ahasuerus did not know that the woman he had chosen as his bride was a Jewish orphan, living with her cousin and guardian, Mordecai, in exile.

After the marriage of Esther and Ahasuerus, Mordecai discovered a plot by two of the King’s eunuchs, who were plotting the King’s death. Mordecai, through Esther, exposed their plan, and was rewarded by the King.

But tensions rose in the court when Mordecai refused to bow to the King’s vizier, Haman. The King had decreed that everyone should bow before the vizier and, when Mordecai refused, Haman the vizier was enraged. Subsequently, the vizier discovered that Mordecai and Esther were Jewish, and he began plotting the extermination of all the exiled Jews in the kingdom. Haman even went so far as to have gallows erected specifically for executing Mordecai. But Mordecai discovered Haman’s plot in time, and used Esther’s favor with her husband to sway the King. Esther was hesitant to approach the King without him summoning her, as the act was punishable by death. Realizing that she may die if she went to the King, but that she might save the rest of her people, she went to Ahasuerus, unsummoned. The King did not kill her, and instead granted her request of attending a dinner party, along with Haman. At the dinner party, Esther invited them to a second party, set to take place the following day. It was at this second dinner that Esther, realizing that she had the favor of the King, exposed Haman’s plot to destroy the Jewish people, as well as her own identity as a Jewish woman. The King, realizing that his wife would be killed as part of Haman’s plan, and also remembering Esther and Mordecai’s involvement in exposing the plot of his assassination earlier, instead decided to execute Haman on the same gallows that he had erected for Mordecai.

Purim takes place on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, said to be celebrated after the 13th day, which Haman chose as the Jews’ execution day. Purim takes its name from the purims, or lots, that Haman drew to determine which day to massacre the Jews.

Jews celebrate their victory over Haman by holding festivals and large meals, wearing costumes, and reciting the Megilah, or the Book of Esther, and sharing food.

For today’s recipe, I made a traditional pastry associated with the holiday of Purim: hamantaschen, which is translated literally to “Haman’s ears.” However, tasche also means pocket or pouch in German, and it is commonly thought that this refers to the money that Haman offered the King to exterminate the Jewish people. In Hebrew, tash means “weaken,” which may reference the celebration of the weakening of Haman. Traditionally filled with poppy seeds, these cookies have been eaten in association with Purim since at least the 1500s.

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Ginger Pear Hamantaschen
Makes 20-24 hamantaschen.

Ingredients:

For filling:
3 3/4 cups pear, peeled, seeded, and chopped finely
1 1/4 cup, plus 1 tbsp white sugar
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
4 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsps freshly zested ginger root

For cookie:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling dough
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg white, beaten and mixed with a splash of water to make an egg wash

Instructions:

For filling: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the pear, sugar lemon zest, lemon juice, and ginger root.

Place over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens, about 30-45 minutes. You can mash the fruit with the back of a spoon as it begins to soften.

Allow to cool to room temperature, then pour into a sanitized jar and refrigerate.

For cookie: In a medium bowl, sift together 2 1/4 cups flour, salt, and baking soda.

Add butter and sugar to a large bowl and beat until very smooth and almost completely white in color, about five minutes.

Add the lemon zest, vanilla, and egg, and beat until just incorporated.

Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture in three batches, beating each batch until it’s just incorporated. If the mixture is very sticky, you can add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour.

After you’ve added all the flour, begin pulling the mixture together into a ball. It may look a bit dry at first, but should come together. There may be some crumbs and that is OK.

Wrap the ball with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours, or as long as overnight.

Once refrigerated, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8-inch thick.

Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Using a 2- or 3-inch round cookie cutter, punch out as many circles as you can. Feel free to re-roll the scraps to punch out more circles.

Beat together egg white and water.

Using a pastry brush, cover the top of each circle with egg wash. Add about 1 1/2 – 2 tsp of ginger pear filling to each cookie. Fold three sides of the circle up to form a triangle. Place on cookie sheet at least 1-inch apart. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown at the edges.

Remove from oven to a cooling rack and cool.

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Food is an excellent way to celebrate ritual and tradition over many generations, and this humble cookie is one such recipe. I hope you love it. Chag Purim Sameach!

Thanksgiving + Crawberry Pie

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While planning some upcoming travel recently, I had the shocking realization that Thanksgiving is, in fact, TOMORROW! And that there are only five weekends separating us from Christmas. Who plans these years, with January located directly next to November?? Anyway, I freaked out about that for a while, resisted the urge to take a stress nap, then decided to start planning what sides I am going to make for Thanksgiving dinner. If we have dinner here, we usually make Ina’s herb-roasted turkey breast (which is still enough to feed a small army and forces me to get creative with the leftovers). We also always have sweet potatoes of some kind, stuffing, and green bean casserole (did you know the creator of the green bean casserole died this year? Her name was Dorcas Reilly, she was 92). We probably won’t go all out this year. Is an all-carb Thanksgiving dinner a thing? Trick question. It is, and we’re having one! Oh, and pie. We will definitely have pie. I’m planning a sweet potato pecan with a gingersnap crust. It might be too adventurous, though. We’ll see.

Before I really get into my Thanksgiving planning, I’m doing a little procrasti-blogging, which leads me to today’s recipe: crawberry pie. Let me explain. Occasionally, we have Friendsgiving, often with our friends David and Quinn. When we do, one of my favorite parts of the dinner is Quinn’s family’s crawberry pie. If you are unfamiliar with crawberries, that’s OK. It’s actually just cranberries, written in Quinn’s grandmother’s hand, and mistaken for “crawberry”. Quinn was nice enough to give me the recipe, which she found out along the way was not her grandmother’s recipe, as she thought, but a recipe from one of her mom’s coworkers, who gave it to her grandmother and it became her specialty at family dinners after that. Funny how family recipes work sometimes. I suppose there are more than a few of our “grandma’s famous” bouncing around out there that are actually clipped from a magazine, or originate from other families. There’s beauty in that. (I was hoping to share a photo of the recipe in her grandma’s handwriting, but Quinn grew up in New Orleans and, unfortunately, the recipe didn’t survive Hurricane Katrina. Luckily, though, the recipe was preserved!)

How to describe this dessert? It’s basically a crustless pie, almost a cake, really. The top is not really a crumble, as it’s sweeter. However, it’s a little more dense than a cake. It’s hard to explain, but it’s in a class all its own, and it’s delicious.

Crawberry Pie

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Crawberry Pie
Makes 1 nine-inch pie.

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of flour
3/4 cup melted butter
Cranberries, enough to cover bottom of pie pan
1/4-1/2 cup of sugar

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs well.

Gradually beat in one cup of sugar. Then, beat in the flour and melted butter.

Grease the bottom of a pie pan, and add enough cranberries to cover the bottom.

Sprinkle the additional 1/2 cup of sugar over the top of the cranberries.

Pour the batter over the top of the sugared cranberries.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top of the pie is just golden.

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If you’re a cranberry fan like me, I think you’ll like this. The cranberries rise up through the batter as it bakes, distributing just the right amount of tartness throughout the sweet pastry. It’s a very simple-to-make (and probably welcome) addition to your Thanksgiving table. I hope you’ll give it a try and let me know what you think. Then I can pass all your kind words on to Quinn and her family!

Thanks so much for sharing, Quinn!

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.

Blueberry Muffins8

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!

 

Blueberry Rhubarb Pandowdy

Bluebarb Pandowdy11

Happy Memorial Day!

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer. Despite the annual confusion about its meaning, it’s actually to honor fallen soldiers who died serving in any of the U.S. wars (in contrast to Veterans Day).

Initially known as Decoration Day, it was first celebrated after the Civil War in the 1860s, as a day when people would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. A few places in the United States claim to have been the first to practice the tradition that eventually became Memorial Day, but it is often attributed to women in Columbus, Mississippi, who honored the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers as early as 1866. It was a tradition that started in the south and moved north, with John A. Logan, a Union general, calling for an annual and nation-wide observance of Decoration Day in 1868.

The name Memorial Day did not start being used until 1882, and it did not become a federal holiday until 1971.

Today’s recipe, pandowdy, has an even longer American history. It was an 19th century recipe that later became a suggested ration recipe during WWII, because it used less sugar and fats than other pies. The name pandowdy comes from the early recipes, which call for a pie crust to be layered over fruit in a deep baking dish. During baking, the dish would be removed from the oven, the crust would be “dowdied” or cut up into the fruit, and then returned to the oven. In its early American life, this dish was almost exclusively made from apples. It is said to have been a favorite of President John Adams, made by his wife Abigail, who insisted that it be served on the 4th of July.

Pandowdy is the easiest and humblest of dessert recipes. Throw together some fast-ripening spring fruit, a little sugar, lemon juice and flour. It’s a one-crust pie turned on its head, meaning the only crust goes on top, instead of the bottom. (Mary Berry would perhaps approve of this dish.)

It is the type of recipe that you’d find in church cookbooks across the country. The earliest recipes are from at least the 19th century (it was mentioned in the New England Farmer newspaper of Boston as early as 1838), but the dish enjoyed a resurgence, like so many early American/colonial recipes, during the World Wars, as it was a quick, easy, and relatively cheap dessert to throw together.

Though Americans did not suffer the food shortages that other countries involved with the World Wars did, rationing did exist, and Americans were encouraged to stretch ingredients anyway they could. WWII ration cookbooks were created to provide helpful ways to provide families with nutritious recipes as well as money-saving tips. Because of the ease of preparation of desserts like pandowdy (when home cooks, almost exclusively women, were not only taking care of their families, but also working outside of the home), as well as the use of fewer expensive or hard-to-find ingredients, pandowdy became a wartime favorite.

You can make this recipe with any fruit. Rather than apples, I used blueberries and rhubarb (bluebarb, you know). I wanted to make the most of the short rhubarb season, and it’s a tasty and balanced combination–and it’s almost red, white, and blue.

Bluebarb Pandowdy3

Bluebarb Pandowdy4

Bluebarb Pandowdy

Bluebarb Pandowdy6

Blueberry Rhubarb Pandowdy
Makes one 10-inch pie.

Ingredients:
For crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 stick, plus 1 tbsp, of unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4-1/3 cup water, very cold

For filling:
1 lb rhubarb, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 pints (about 5 cups) blueberries
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Instructions:

For crust:

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse to mix. Add in the frozen butter. Pulse until the pieces of butter are the size of small peas. Add the apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup water. Pulse until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the processor. You may use a bit more water if needed.

Pour the mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap the plastic around the dough and shape into a disc. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.

Roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thickness.

Use a small cookie cutter, or knife, to cut out tiny 1-2-inch pieces of dough. Place on a parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet and put in freezer while you prepare the fruit. (To give you an idea, I used almost 50 little cutouts on my pandowdy.)

For filling:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease the sides and bottom of a cast iron skillet, deep dish pie pan, or any other oven-safe pan. Lay the rhubarb flat on the bottom and sprinkle evenly with 2 tablespoons of sugar.

In a large bowl, combine the blueberries, lemon juice, flour, sugar, and salt.

Pour the blueberries over the arranged rhubarb. Top with the pie dough cutouts, overlapping them to cover most of the fruit.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until the blueberry mixture is bubbling up around the pie crust pieces, and the crust is light to medium brown in color.

Bluebarb Pandowdy8

Super-easy. No pie edge crimping. The perfect combination of sweet blueberries and tart rhubarb. (And let’s get these final rhubarb recipes in under the wire!) Also, you definitely wouldn’t need cookie cutters for this. You could easily cut the crust into little squares, or just make a round crust to lay on top, but be sure to cut vents in the top before baking. In the early days, this dish would have likely been eaten for breakfast, but I think it’s a perfect Memorial Day dessert.

I hope you enjoy your Memorial Day parades and remembrances, picnics, BBQs, and these first unofficial days of summer!