I found my thrill. . .
Susan, Mugs and I went hiking one day last week on Pleasant Mountain in western Maine. I’d tell you which day but that would involve my actually paying attention to what day of the week is which up there, and now that Ebenezer’s is open seven days a week, there’s really no need for that. I mark the days in the front half of the trip by how far they are from arrival, and the days in the second half of the trip as how soon they are from departure. Maine is like Saratoga in this way.
Pleasant Mountain is a fairly challenging hike, moreso depending on what trail you choose to take. We took the steepest one, which would have been fine had we remembered to wear hiking boots and bring enough water. Only we didn’t. This caused me to make a series of comments about Not-So-Pleasant Mountain on the way up. The first blueberry bushes we found were about 3/4ths of the way up and they were green as a two-year old in May. I was not a hopeful forager at that point. But as we neared the top, we found the area we unimaginatively named Blueberry Hill, and it all changed. Suddenly there were gorgeous blueberries EVERYWHERE.
You could reach down from the trail and grab a handful. The reddish blue ones were good, sunbaked fruit with just a hint of sour. But the further we went, the more we saw the true blue ones, and they were astonishing in their quality: perfect in their sweetness, with just a hint of a tart and (forgive me for saying this) an earthy expression of terroir in the middle of the palate.
We spent about an hour filling one of our twenty ounce water bottles with the little berries. Susan did most of the work. I did a little picking but most of my time was spent hand feeding Mugs a bottle of water and taking some pics. We had a few ideas for what to do with the berries: blueberry pancakes and blueberry risotto were the leading candidates when we realized the right move: we would make granita. Ever since we had Hand melon (cantoulope) granita at Beekman Street Bistro many years back (concocted by the great chef there at the time Dan Spitz ), we have been keen on taking the best local, seasonal fruit we can find and grani-tizing it. We’ve had success with watermelon, peaches, various farmers’ market berries. . .but we’d never tried with hand-picked, wild Maine blueberries .
The recipe itself was easy.
1/2 cup water (120 ml, 4 fl.oz. imperial)
1/2 cup sugar (120 ml, 4 fl.oz. imperial)
20 ounces wild Maine blueberries (600ml, 1 pint imperial)
Make simple syrup in a pan or pot on the stove by combining the sugar and water over medium heat until all the sugar is absorbed and the syrup becomes. . .well, syrup-y. (If you don’t like to use sugar, I think a subtle honey would make an able substitute).
In a food processor or blender, combine the syrup and the berries and pulse several times until the berries and syrup become one. I suppose you could also just mash up the berries with a mortar and pestle and then add them to the syrup but that sounds a bit messy.
Take the blueberry mixture and place it in a receptacle with plenty of surface area that will fit in your freezer (we used a pie tin). Place in the feezer and stir every half hour or so until it becomes a lovely old-school Italian ice-like texture. This will likely take between 1 1/2 and 2 hours.
Usually we just eat the granita straight, out of a small wine glass, maybe garnish with a little spring of mint on top, but the other night we were feeling frisky. Susan’s parents volunteered to take a little trip down to the marina to get some vanilla ice cream (thanks Jim and Nancy!) and Susan’s sister Carolyn (an excellent cook herself) got the great idea to crumble some oatmeal cookies on top of our newly created Blueberry parfaits, which we layered in this order: granita, little ice cream, more granita, crumbled cookies.
As the sun set over Lake Kezar, all was right with the world. Back soon with the story of a new cocktail we created: The Dock Flyer.