August 15, 2008

Berry Country, USA


Muffins have long been a comfort food for me. Not only are they delicious in a grandma's-country-porch-in-the-summer sort of way, but they're easy as hell to make. When preparing muffins, it's hard to go wrong: mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, stir together the wet ingredients in another bowl, combine the wet with the dry, pour the batter into the tins, and 20-25 minutes later you have 12 moist, aromatic little pillows of deliciousness that will bow to the needs of your sweet tooth. Muffins are also extremely versatile, leaving much room for improvisation. From spices to fruits, vegetables to seeds, muffins can handle just about any ingredient you throw their way.

Yes, muffins provide me with the love and companionship I am unable to find in real people. (Wait...I should save this discussion for my future therapist.)

Nothing meshes better with the just-sweet-enough batter of muffins than the super-sweet pop of berries. Luckily, I currently live in an area where berries are not only bulbous and abundant, but they are also cheap! When living in Arizona, it was impossible to find a mere quarter-cup of raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries for less than $4! These high costs caused me many-a-berryless night. Oh, the agony! While I was sitting at home munching on grapes and old newspapers, I imagined the rich and famous over-filling their bathtubs with gooseberries, cherries, and acai. I'm not quite sure what these aristocrats would do with (or in) these berry-filled tubs, but that was not the point: the point was that many could afford such juicy luxuries, while I, poor and in desperate need of antioxidants, could not.

Until North Carolina.

Berries thrive in this coastal environment. In fact, North Carolina's agricultural revenue relies so heavily on berries that in 2001 the General Assembly named the strawberry the official "Red Berry" of the state, while blueberries were named--you guessed it!--the official "Blue Berry" of the state. In 2005, NC strawberries brought in over $19,000,000 of revenue, while blueberries shoveled in close to $37,000,000. That's a lot of money...and a lot of gratifyingly stained fingers and lips!

In a fair economic market, local agriculture translates into better prices for the local consumer. 'Tis the case with the North Carolina berry. Just yesterday I found myself wandering around Harris Teeter, a grocery store found in 5 southern states, including NC. I approached the berry display with much hesitation. "Don't do this to yourself," my brain said in its all-knowing British accent. "Don't tempt yourself with these plump and succulent jezebels that your bank account cannot handle. No. No. No! Wait...what?! 4 quarts for $6?! Hellz yeah!"

I couldn't believe my eyes. Both blueberries AND blackberries were on sale: 4/$6. Unable to trust the 2 signs before me, I nudged the produce guy and asked, "Are those prices for real?" He gave me a confused, though assuring, "Uh, yeah. I guess."

So, needless to say, I stocked up. When I say "stocked up," I don't mean to imply that I spent $6 on 4 quarts. No. Unlike my paternal grandmother who stockpiles the shelves of her basement with dusty canned goods "in case disaster strikes," I am cheap (and apparently at risk). For a gal used to buying a mere handful of berries for a million dollars (plus the souls of my unborn children...and maybe even yours), "stocked up," in berry terms, means that I bought 1 quart of blueberries for $1.50. 1 quart is more than enough for now.

Think of all the things I could do with these berries in the future! Think of the pies I could bake, the sorbets I could blend! Think of the endless muffin tins I could satisfy with such goodness! And, most importantly, think of the bathtubs I could soon fill for no purpose other than, well, it might be good...and snobbishly delicious!

***By the way...did you know that a persimmon is a berry? Vedi intedesteeng!

Recipe Time:

A few weeks back, I came into possession of an unknown quantity of blueberries & a yet-undisclosed amount of blackberries. The coordinates of this purchase will remain top secret (mostly because my memory is bad & I fail to remember where the hell I bought these tasty fruits.) Anyhow, after suffering a mad muffin craving, I decided to throw both berries into the batter. Orange juice and zest were also added. The recipe follows.


Blueberry-Blackberry-Orange-Good Muffins
(inspired by Orange Blackberry Muffins at the blog Genesis of a Cook)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup honey
1/8 cup of sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 orange
3/4 cup rice milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup blackberries
1/2 cup blueberries

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease the muffin tins with a little bit of olive oil.

2. Pour the orange juice into a large bowl, and pour in enough rice milk to yield 1 cup. Whisk in the eggs and honey. (I can see a little splash of wine working well in this concoction as well!)

3. In a large bowl, rub sugar and orange zest together with fingertips until the sugar is moistened. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and gently but quickly stir to blend. Stir in the berries. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

4. Bake for about 22 to 25 minutes.

Enjoy!

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