Thursday, July 24, 2014

Blueberry Hill Memories and Muffin Mania

When I was a child growing up on a farm in Oulu, in Northern Wisconsin not far from the shores of Lake Superior, there was a meadow atop a small hill on the road to our home we called Blueberry Hill.  The property was owned by my great-grandfather, a Finnish immigrant, but their home was not located on Blueberry Hill.  Instead, this spot was home for wild strawberries, raspberries and (of course) blueberries!  There were shallow creeks in the ditches, where my cousins and I would catch polliwogs.  We’d hike in the woods and pretend we were lost in the wilderness and had to survive by eating off the land… although sometimes that “land” included the vegetable garden and apple trees near our house.  One time, Roger and I actually did get lost, but our little border collie dog, Panda, led us to the road and the safety of home.  Panda was our hero, our rescuer!  Roger is three weeks older than I, and Art is six months younger.  We made fishing poles out of string and branches, and trekked through the woods to the shallow creek where we fished.  I don't remember if we even put bait on our lines... and I'm quite sure there were no fish in that shallow creek, but it didn't stop us from fishing... and believing in the possibility of a fine catch.  We once found a large hole in a tree trunk, and stacked branches around the opening to our "cave" like a porch, to enlarge the space.  The woods and water provided the basis for many of our adventures. Our mothers were sisters, and for the first years of our lives, we lived within 50 miles of each other and the farm was a place of wonder to us and our imaginations were allowed free reign.  Art was the initiator of most of our fantasies… his sentences often began with, “Let’s pretend…” and then we would embellish on his ideas and the journey would begin. 

I recently discovered Hoffman’s Bali Pops hand-painted Batik jelly roll strips on sale, their Wild Berry line, and it brought back memories of Blueberry Hill, so of course this quilt top will bear that name.  It’s a simple pattern made up of jelly roll strips cut into three sizes:
The center is a 2-1/2” square, light or dark with 4-1/2” opposite light or dark attached to each end to form a 10-1/2” strip . 
Two 10-1/2” strips are attached to each side, with a total of 5 strips per block to form a 10-1/2” block.
Alternate the blocks, as for Rail Fence, every other block vertical and alternate blocks horizontal.  I did all light center blocks vertical and all dark center blocks horizontal to make it easier to be consistent.  One jelly roll made 28 blocks, with just a few scraps left over.  The blocks are shown on my design wall, above.  Incidentally, my design wall is the back side of a flannel-backed vinyl tablecloth from the dollar store, anchored on the fireplace mantle... simple and portable and CHEAP!   If one of my children likes this well enough to want a bed quilt in these colors, I will make a second jelly roll into blocks and make a border around it to make a quilt large enough for a full or queen-sized bed.  Otherwise, it will be a lap quilt with the existing blocks, and two more blocks and borders added, set 5 rows across by 6 rows down. 

Any talk of blueberries MUST include blueberry muffins!  My sons would bike out to blueberry patches in the summertime when they were young, with a plastic ice cream bucket hung on the handlebars… bringing back mounds of berries for pancakes and muffins and sometimes even pies.  Although I no longer have berry pickers or even berry patches here in Cincinnati, summer brings berries in abundance to the grocery store shelves… and I made blueberry and sour cream raspberry muffins.   I make them in the large muffin tins, wrap them individually in plastic wrap to keep them from drying out, and store them in the refrigerator.  One of the tricks that makes all quick breads better is to take care not to overmix the batter, and I combine all of the liquid ingredients before adding them to the dry ingredients, since the baking powder and baking soda begin to act when they are combined with liquids.  Have your oven preheated, measure the dry ingredients into a bowl and then combine the liquid ingredients, and last combine the liquid with the dry ingredients.  I spray the muffin tins with a butter-flavored cooking spray, filling the tins about ¾ full. 

Blueberry Muffins:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup almond meal or pecan meal (optional, if you don’t have it you can add a bit more flour)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.  Pour 1 pint of washed blueberries on top of the dry ingredients.
Combine in a blender:
½ cup soft or melted butter
1 cup sour cream
4 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon almond flavoring
If you don’t have sour cream, you can use 1-1/2 cups of buttermilk instead.
Pour liquids over dry ingredients and mix just until blended.  Spoon into prepared muffin tins.  Sprinkle tops with cinnamon sugar.  Bake at 350 degrees until done, about 25 minutes, depending on your oven and size of tins. Makes 1 dozen large muffins or 2 dozen regular sized muffins.

Raspberry Sour Cream Muffins:
½ cup soft butter
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Whip until light.  Add 4 eggs, beating well.
Stir in:
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 cups dairy sour cream
3 cups all-purpose flour
Gently stir in one pint of fresh raspberries.
Spoon into prepared muffin tins.  Bake at 350 degrees until done, about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the oven and size of tins.  Makes 1 dozen large muffins or 2 dozen regular sized muffins.

My two youngest Minnesota grandchildren are spending a few weeks with me, and Quentin’s favorite breakfast is a cheese omelet.  He can eat a 3-egg omelet with lots of cheese inside.  Charlotte is content with a 2-egg omelet.  Here’s a photo of Quentin’s breakfast, complete with a blueberry muffin. 

My grandchildren delight in playing electronic games on the Wii, computer or i-Pad.  I often think how their imaginations are stifled… they do not experience the world of imagination in the same way their parents and grandparents did.  I guess we call this progress… thank goodness they still love to read!  Charlotte is a prolific reader, at age 5… she will be in kindergarten this fall.  She reads aloud to me and giggles at the antics of Amelia Bedelia as she reads.  Every once in a while, she will stop and explain to me what Amelia is doing, because I am old and perhaps I might not understand!  Books will always provide fuel for the imagination of those who love to read, and our family has always treasured books.  My grandchildren all have overflowing shelves of books in their bedrooms, some of which are passed down from their parents.  I delight in having the little ones read to me, probably even more than they enjoy it.  With the busy lives their families lead, I know they cherish the one-on-one time with me, as well. 
As I am writing this, I hear the children in the next room, playing a game on the Wii.  Charlotte is playing, with her 9 year old brother assisting her.  She just asked him to help her with a difficult portion of the game, and Quentin responded, "I am awesome at that!  I have never played it, but I know I'm awesome!"  I hope that all of you readers realize your "awesome-ness" today, as well!