By Janice Lindsay, Contributing Writer
August is the season for slump, buckle, and grunt. And for crumble, roly poly, flummery, fool, duff, puff, fluff, strum, and shrub. Not to mention trifle, betty, crisp, and pandowdy.
People who read cookbooks, as well as those people who actually cook, know that these are all names for traditional dishes made with blueberries. Blueberries are very much in season now and second only to strawberries in the hearts and mouths of American eaters.
I don’t know why English-speakers have chosen such common and sometimes unflattering names for some of our tastiest treats. But the blueberry is such a pleasant, sweet, and friendly little creature that you may call the dishes anything you like. The blueberry will understand that you do it with affection, and will forgive you. (Would anyone dare to make a dessert with blueberry’s acerbic, stand-offish cousin and call it “cranberry grunt?”)
North America enjoys countless varieties of native and cultivated blueberries, some high-bush, some low-bush, some offering berries in clusters, some in singles. Wild blueberries were first canned during the Civil War for Union soldiers, and we’ve been buying them ever since. Cultivated varieties have been available in quantities since the 1930s.
Who doesn’t have sweet, warm, teeth-staining memories? That pie oozing blue juice, those blueberry pancakes spongy with maple syrup, that hot muffin, butter melting into blue holes.
I had a blueberry-picking-deprived childhood. My mother, as a child, had been dragged berrying by her mother at ever picking opportunity. My mother hated it. So she took my sister and me blueberry-picking only once, probably out of a sense that she would otherwise deprive us of a proper New England upbringing. I don’t remember the picking experience. But I remember that our supper that night was fresh berries in a bowl with sweet, thick common crackers crumbled and soaked in milk. Does life get any better?
I enjoyed my grown-up blueberry-picking experience at the Marlborough house that my husband I bought when we were first married. He grew seven generous bushes, some that he had bought and some that he transplanted from the neglected meadow at the end of our road. The berries ranged from tiny black ones, unfailingly sweet, to cultivated meaty blues that sometimes grew as broad as his thumbnail. They included a pale berry with a slight minty taste and others that tasted almost spicy.
We covered the bushes with netting; the birds and squirrels knew when the berries were ripe as well as we did.
It was a fine, in-touch-with-nature-and-your-ancestors, feeling under the opened net late on a warm summer afternoon, hearing only the plop, plop of berries in the bottom of the bucket and the mew of the watchful catbird wishing you’d go away so she could have a taste.
For the record: To make slump, bake seasoned berries in the oven, top with a sweet biscuit-like batter, and bake some more. Buckle is a blueberry cake, often with cinnamon sugar topping. Grunt is syrup cooked on top of the stove, with dumplings. Flummery is a thick syrup strained and served cold.
Crumble, fool, and strum involve baking berries with bread in various forms. For roly poly, you role a berry mixture in dough like a jellyroll, slice, and bake the pieces in a brown sugar syrup. Duff and puff are streamed puddings, fluff is a whipped pudding, and shrub is a blended drink that includes vinegar and sugar.
Now I’ve made myself hungry. Lucky for me, blueberries wait in my refrigerator.