A taste of summer: Blueberry-cranberry chutney with Brie on crusty bread
“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” This I croon, along with Lena Horne on the car radio, as I make my way through the winding hills and farm fields of Washington County on this sultry summer Sunday. Where the air is heady with the smell of hay, earth, and cow dung. (Am I the only one who revels in the pungent scent of cow paddy?) En route to My Rural Mecca: Gardenworks at MacClan Farms in Salem, New York. It’s blueberry season, and my mission this day is to pick enough of the superfood berries to last the summer, to avoid the $3.99-per-pint weekly charges at the local grocery by harvesting the fruits of my own labor (well, not really) for half the cost. In the sunshine, in the fertile Black Creek Valley of eastern New York, an hour from home, a hundred years back in time, in a magical corner of the state where cows outnumber people (and milk trucks therefore outnumber cars)…
Gardenworks is more than a farm stand, or nursery, or greenhouse. It is a compound of creativity, and all that is idyllic about an agrarian existence. It is a collection of pristine hundred-year-old barns, in a verdant valley on the border of Vermont, specializing in local produce, meats, books, artwork, jewelry, and (my favorite) cheese. There are wreath-making classes, and cheese talks, and art exhibits, and cooking seminars.
Every season at Gardenworks holds a different wonder: a bounty of berries and plentiful perennials in summer; prolific pumpkins and mums ad finitum in autumn; Christmas trees, wreaths, and handcrafted decorations in winter. For the past few Christmases, I have created gift baskets for friends and family, purely from Gardenworks wares: soups, syrups, dip mixes, cheeses, ornaments, textiles. Most, if not all, created within a 20-mile radius, or right at Gardenworks.
But today, it’s all about the blues.
I grab a red pick-your-own pail from the Radio Flyer wagon out front, and nearly skip into the adjacent fields to start my harvest. I pretend that these fields, this land, these beautiful barns, are mine, all mine.
I am alone, almost. And I am glad for this solitude. Because I suddenly realize that I don’t know what a blueberry bush looks like. I walk among low-growing rows of green shrubs, scanning them for signs of blueberries, and pretend that I know where I am going, and what I am doing (I don’t). I keep walking with false confidence. Just in case someone is watching this pseudo-city slicker/country gal wannabe. I realize that the last time I picked blueberries was with my mom, as a preteen girl in my hometown of Clifton Park, in a farm field that has long since surrendered to subdivision development. A loooong time ago.
Then finally, there they are. Tall, scraggly bushes, at the far end of the field. Heavy with my blue heaven.
One for the bucket, one for my belly. One for the bucket, two for my belly. That’s pretty much the way it goes for the better part of an hour. Until my red pail is about a third full, and my belly is fuller.
I head back to the main barn. I pick up a few varieties of locally made cheese, a sweet onion, some smoked sausage for supper. My blueberry haul weighs in at just under two pounds, or about $5. Enough for the next few weeks, or until I get the urge to make my Gardenworks pilgrimage again. With my receipt, the clerk hands me a delightful bouquet, gratis. No doubt culled from the nursery’s winning homegrown selection of zinnias, snapdragons, and dahlias. “(Owners) Meg and Rob (Southerland) thank you for shopping Gardenworks. These were leftover from a party they hosted last night. Enjoy!”
Bonus: With my Gardenworks receipt, I can enjoy 10% off ice cream at Battenkill Valley Creamery, just down the road. Old-school dairy, milk in glass jugs, hand-churned ice cream, farm fresh eggs, cheese curds. How to turn down a dish of my favorite mint chocolate chunk…
…fresh from this cow, right across the road?
But now, for the blueberries. What to create with my blueberries? Sure, there are all sorts of sweet possibilities–buckle, crumble, jelly, scones, muffins–but I seek the savory. How about a blueberry chutney? A tart, chunky relish, slathered on a slice of crusty bread, with a bloomy Brie-like cheese, perhaps?
In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups washed, picked-over fresh blueberries…
…with (1) chopped sweet onion, a handful of dried cranberries, 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar, pinch sea salt, sprinkle of cinnamon (yes, friend Sarah, that kind you love!), and enough apple cider vinegar to almost cover the saucepan’s contents.
Simmer, covered, over medium-low heat, until it looks really messy like this, about 20 minutes…
Dissolve a tablespoon of cornstarch in some water, and add to the simmering mixture, stirring until slightly thickened…
…then cool and transfer to a comely white bowl like this to serve…
Or store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a few weeks, but it won’t last that long, because you’ll enjoy it sooner. I highly recommend pairing it with an earthy cheese and crusty bread. While at Gardenworks, I picked up some White Lily, a scrumptious goat cheese produced in neighboring Argyle, NY, at Sweet Spring Farm (also available at our nearby Saratoga Farmers’ Market). Unwrap, let it come to room temperature, until spreadable but still a tad crumbly…
Spread cheese onto crusty artisan bread, top with chutney, and garnish with lemon thyme. Enjoy the bounty of summer blueberries in this delicious, savory, sweet-tart spread!
How should I use the rest of my blueberries? Share your recipe suggestions!