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I never developed a true appreciation for blueberries until about 20 years ago, when I spent summer weekends knocking around the New England coast. It was there I had my first taste of the small, intensely flavored wild ones, and soon carried a small plastic pail tied to my knapsack as a matter of course. Pancakes, pies, and sturdy cobblers that oozed indigo-violet juice were well worth constantly scratched legs and mysterious little bites.

Cultivated blueberries are larger, milder, sweeter, and (unsurprisingly) able to withstand shipping. I have to say I’m a fan, because 1.) I have neither the time nor patience to find and pick the wild ones. 2.) I am so over mysterious little bites. 3.) A handful of fresh blueberries every day provides you with a comforting dose of the antioxidant anthocyanin. 4.) The story behind the development of cultivated blueberry varieties is an interesting one, and it happened practically in my own backyard.

Enter one Elizabeth Coleman White (1871–1954), the eldest daughter of a cranberry farmer from the Pinelands (aka Pine Barrens), a heavily forested million-acre stretch of coastal plain in southern New Jersey. White and her father formed an alliance with a plant breeder and the local woodsmen called “Pineys,” who used their hunting and foraging skills to search the area and bring back the best plants for propagation. Click here for an evocative account of what that entailed.

The cultivated Jersey blueberries we’re getting at the Greenmarket this season have been juicy and ultrafresh. Although I’m not the baker in this family, I was moved to try the shortcake recipe below, from the July-August issue of Martha Stewart Living. There’s no slicing of fragile biscuits or piling of equally fragile berries involved; instead, the berries are simply baked into the shortcakes. How clever is that? You can serve extra berries on the side, of course, but the easy portability of the shortcakes is a big plus in my book—as is the fact that whipped cream, although very nice with these, isn’t a vital component. Which is another way to say that they’re fabulous for breakfast.

Berry Shortcakes

From Martha Stewart Living (July-August 2013)

Now, freelancer Nora Singley, who developed this recipe, used two ounces of blueberries and two ounces of diced strawberries to make a total of eight shortcakes. I simplified matters by making just blueberry because, well, we ate the last of the strawberries yesterday. If you want to go halfsies, though, simply transfer half the flour mixture to another bowl so you can mix in the berries separately.

Nonstick cooking spray

1½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

¾ teaspoon coarse salt

1¾ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

8 ounces cream cheese, 2 ounces cold, 6 ounces room temperature

4 ounces blueberries (about 2/3 cup), plus more for serving

¾ cup well-shaken buttermilk

1/3 cup confectioners sugar, plus more for serving

1¼ cups heavy cream

1. Coat 2 parchment-lined baking sheet with cooking spray. Whisk together flour, granulated sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl. Incorporate butter and cold cream cheese into flour mixture with a pastry cutter or your fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to freezer and chill 30 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 425° with racks in upper and lower thirds. Add blueberries to flour mixture. Gradually stir in buttermilk, gently folding with a rubber spatula until a sticky dough forms. (Do not overmix.) Divide dough into 8 even mounds and place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake, rotating halfway through, until shortcakes are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

3. Meanwhile, beat together remaining 6 ounces cream cheese and confectioners sugar with a mixer on medium speed until smooth. Gradually add heavy cream, beating just until mixture becomes smooth and thick, about 1 minute. (Do not overbeat.) Serve alongside shortcakes and additional berries, with confectioners sugar for sprinkling.


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