Saturday, July 14, 2012

How to bake a blueberry cake like Gramma Wight’s

Start with the berries. Go down to the edge of the lake and pick two cups of berries from the clump of wild high-bush blueberries that has (without fuss or fertilizer, attention or interference) been producing berries for pancakes, muffins, and cakes for more than half a century. 

If you tie a cut-down plastic milk jug around your waist with a piece of clothesline rope, you’ll be able to use both hands to pick; this is good.

Go barefoot, and wear shorts, because to pick the ones on the lake side of the bush you have to stand in the water.  (Gramma Wight did not wear shorts. She wore skirts. I do not wear skirts at camp--or anywhere else, for that matter, if I can help it.)

The best time to go is early in the morning, because if you get there before the sun burns off the dew, there will be fairy dresses to admire, stretched between the branches of the bushes and spread out on the little patch of grass behind them.

Use Marjorie Standish’s Melt-In-Your-Mouth Blueberry Cake recipe, from her first cookbook, Cooking Down East. Marjorie says this is "undoubtedly the most popular recipe ever used in my column." There is good reason for that. I modify it with the addition of a crumb topping, because who doesn’t like a nice crumb topping?

You’ll need: two eggs, separated; a half-cup of shortening (next time I might experiment with using butter instead, but today I went with Marjorie’s recommendation and used Crisco); a cup of sugar; a teaspoon of real vanilla; a cup and a half of flour; a teaspoon of baking powder (I like Rumford brand because it’s aluminum-free—no weird aftertaste); a quarter of a teaspoon of salt; a third of a cup of milk; and two cups of blueberries. (I just realized that the recipe actually only calls for a cup and a half, but I used two because I had them, and it came out just fine, with a lovely amount of blueberry taste.)

Separate the eggs and beat the whites until stiff. It’s best to use your mom’s old Pyrex mixing bowl for this; the red one should be the right size. Add some of the sugar from the recipe to the beaten egg whites to keep them stiff, about a quarter of a cup.

Cream the shortening in a bigger bowl; the yellow Pyrex is perfect. Add the sugar, vanilla, and egg yolks and beat until nice and fluffy. 

Sift together your dry ingredients, but first, mix a little of the flour from the recipe with the berries so they won’t settle to the bottom of your cake; a couple of teaspoons should be enough. Add your dry ingredients alternately with the milk. Gently fold in the beaten egg whites and then, even more gently, the blueberries.

Spread the batter in a greased 8” x 8” pan. Marjorie says to sprinkle the top lightly with granulated sugar, but I do love a nice crumb topping. So mix half a stick of softened butter with a quarter cup of brown sugar, a half cup of flour, and a half teaspoon of cinnamon. Use a pastry blender—that ancient one with the crazily bent wires that was brought to camp fifty years ago because it wasn’t “good enough” for home.

Sprinkle the topping onto the batter and bake it at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes, or until it springs back when you press the center.

Put it on a cooling rack on the table to cool. Add a note so everyone knows you didn’t make it for a bake sale or something. Don’t let the dog eat it—a friend tells me consuming blueberries has dire consequences for the canine intestinal tract.
 If you’re lucky, there will be a piece left for you when you get back from your meeting.