Maine Blueberry Caramel
The Maine blueberries are here! The Maine blueberries are here! Maine's wild blueberry season is short (about 5 weeks or so, starting in late July or early August), and only 1% of the crop is sold fresh, which means we have to grab the few chances we get each year to enjoy the real blueberry deal. Fat, gooey, tasteless cultivated blueberries from unlikely places like New Jersey and California are available all year round in your produce section, but their relationship to the real wild blueberry is distant indeed.
Maine has about 60,000 acres of land in wild blueberries, mostly in the coastal zone. Due to biannual pruning to maximize harvest, only half of the blueberry fields are productive in any given year. Maine is the largest producer in the U.S., producing 25% of the total North American crop. Canada produces 25% (also wild) and the rest of the production is cultivated in other U.S. states.
These tiny orbs of flavor bring back memories of 40-years-ago wilderness pies baked in a reflector oven at the end of a long day of paddling. with breaks to gather buckets of streamside blueberries on the portage paths, in Northern Michigan and the Timagami and Boundary Waters lake chains in Ontario. Though nothing could bring the entire experience of those canoe treks back completely, this food creates a strong connection for me with cherished memories.
Making pie, of course, requires a commitment of time, a modicum of skill and more than a little patience, even in a kitchen instead of around a campfire. However, this blueberry caramel is quick and easy and delivers about 98% of the flavor and goodness as a pie (and almost certainly with less calories, depending on what sort of cookie you choose to spoon it over). Of course, a good creamy vanilla ice cream is mandatory, and if available I like to spoon the blueberries over a sweet biscuit -- from a box, as in the picture above, which keeps it quick and easy, but I won't stop you if you want make your biscuits from scratch (or Bisquick shortcake, if you're still in a little hurry!).
6 T sugar
2 T water
1 C wild blueberries
2 T cognac (optional)
Simmer sugar and water, stirring occasionally, until golden (about 5 minutes).
Add blueberries and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes over medium low heat.
Stir in cognac, cook for another minute. Allow to cool a few minutes before serving.