ELLSWORTH — The sweetest things grow naturally from the earth. Case in point: Maine’s wild blueberries.
“For me, blueberries just scream summer,” said author, photographer and Boston Globe columnist Sally Pasley Vargas.
Down East Books recently released Vargas’s latest book, “The Blueberry Cookbook,” which is packed with over 50 recipes, baking tips and lush photos of blueberry-centric desserts, breakfasts and cocktails that Vargas shot herself.
The publishing house had approached the New Jersey native about writing “Blueberry” after the success of her “The Cranberry Cookbook,” which Vargas wrote for a sister press.
“They came to me with the idea but I was thrilled to do it,” Vargas said.
“It’s just a lot of fun to use blueberries in cooking and baking,” Vargas said. “Even if you only made two recipes from the book, it’s a nice book to have.”
Down East Books says the recipes are traditional but also reflect today’s vibrant and imaginative cooking style.
With the holidays coming up, the book would make a good gift for Maine enthusiasts or cooks.
And if you buy the book for yourself, there are simple recipes for food gifts inside, such as using frozen wild blueberries to make microwave jam.
Of course, blueberries aren’t just for dessert; they’re great for breakfast too.
Vargas keeps a bag of frozen wild blueberries in her freezer year-round to add to yogurt for breakfast.
Vargas also wrote “Food for Friends: Homemade Gifts for Every Season” and “The Tao of Cooking,” which features 300 international meatless recipes.
She also is a contributor to the Simply Recipes website.
Vargas launched her culinary career as a line cook at Rudi’s Big Indian Restaurant in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
Her neighbor at the time, Chef Eugene Bernard, was teaching at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He encouraged Vargas to intern with the late pastry chef Albert Kumin at the institute.
Vargas includes a tip she learned from Kumin about folding meringues and cake batters in an early chapter titled The Blueberry Pantry.
“The best tool for folding light batters is your hand, if you don’t mind the mess,” Vargas wrote. “I marveled when I saw my baking mentor, Albert Kumin at the Culinary Institute of America, mix big bowls of sponge cake batter with his giant hand. It really goes much faster and you can get right down to the bottom of the bowl.”
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In a bowl, whisk 2 cups of the flour, salt and baking powder together until blended. In a separate bowl, toss the blueberries with the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute, or until creamy. Add the sugar and beat for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until the mixture is light in color. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on low speed after each addition and scraping down the bowl with a spatula as necessary, until they are incorporated. Add the sour cream and vanilla and mix until combined. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined.
Remove the bowl from the stand and stir with a spatula to thoroughly mix the batter. It will be thick. Gently fold in the blueberries.
Using a 2½-inch ice cream scoop, fill the muffins cups, rounded side up, with the batter. Sprinkle the tops with the sugar. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack.
5-6 peeled and cored baking apples (Honeycrisp, Empire, Cortland, Braeburn), sliced 3/8-inch thick to make 7-8 cups
2Tbsps. freshly squeezed lemon juice
½cuppacked light brown sugar
1tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/3 cupsMaine wild blueberries, fresh or frozen
2Tbsps. unsalted butter
2tsps. granulated sugar for sprinkling
If you’ve refrigerated the dough, remove it from the refrigerator to soften slightly while you make the filling.
In a large bowl, toss the apples with the lemon juice, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Stir in the blueberries.
On a lightly floured surface or between 2 sheets of parchment paper, roll the smaller disk into a 12-inch circle that is about 1/8-inch thick. Line the pie pan with the dough, and trim the pastry so that it is even at the edge. Mound the filling in the pie pan. Dot it with small pieces of the butter.
Roll out the remaining dough into a 13-inch circle and lay it gently on top of the fruit. With scissors, trim the excess overhanging pastry, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Tuck the border under the bottom crust and crimp or press the edges with a fork.
Freeze the pie for 1 hour. Set a baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
With a fork, thoroughly beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of cold water. Brush it over the pie, including the edges. With a sharp paring knife, cut 5 or 6 1-inch vents on top. Sprinkle with sugar.
Place the pie on the baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and bake for another 35 minutes, or until the crust is brown and the filling bubbles. (Total baking time is about 55 minutes.) If the crust browns before the filling bubbles, cover loosely with foil. The pie is best served on the day it is made, but leftover pie is especially good reheated in the oven.
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.