My mother loves them.
The Kid likes them about as much as Anna Wintour loves polyester sweat pants, and Ted Nugent loves gun control.
Me? I take after my mom; I love blueberries.
Nine years ago I planted three blueberry bushes in my backyard. Two of them quickly went to the big garden center in the sky. But for some reason, no matter how much benign neglect I visited upon it, one lived.
It took five or six years, but that bush finally started producing berries at an average of 14 per season. Once I see them begin to develop and ripen, I’d watch them like they were a pregnant giraffe.
But somebody else was watching as well.
Did you know that birds have very few taste buds? And did you know that birds could care less if blueberries are fully ripe? It’s true; they locate food by scent and touch.
And did you know that off the bush, blueberries won’t ripen, but rot?
So every year is a race against time and sunshine. Which will come first? Ripeness and harvest? Or larcenous, be-winged, no-tasting, butt heads feasting off my labor?
Out of maybe 75 berries in six years, I’ve harvested about twelve. I stand next to the shrub, eating a paltry few with one hand, and shaking my fist at the beaked bandits with the other.
Last summer I decided to get serious about my blueberries. I trimmed the bush and fertilized it. Then I planted three more. The added plants would increase the rate and success of pollination.
So now it’s May, and I have my veteran bush and the single survivor of the great blueberry planting of 2016. But this year my original shrub has at least two or three hundred little green berries that will hopefully turn into a successful harvest and subsequent muffins, and jam, pancakes, and ketchup.
Yup, you read that right; ketchup.
I’ve always loved Dairy Queen’s peanut buster parfait. In fact in high school I once talked a friend into driving me from Elizabeth City to Nags Head one night just to procure one. And this was before the new highway was built. Of course the undeniable compulsion may have partly stemmed from ingesting copious amounts of Foster’s lager (for me, copious amounts are 8 to 12 ounces — I’ve never been much of a drinker).
But the point is, I love salty-sweet combos.
And, as odd as blueberry ketchup may sound, it’s actually really good, and extremely versatile.
Add some bacon, and it makes a delicious and different PBJ. Use it in a vinaigrette, marinade, or barbecue sauce. Replace cranberry sauce with blueberry ketchup in that post-Thanksgiving sandwich. Serve it on cornbread, or stir it into a bowl of chili. The intense flavor of blueberries and spice is the perfect foil for vodka or gin in a martini.
Blueberry ketchup would be a novel addition to the condiments at your next cookout. Imagine the blue goo on a cheeseburger made with Swiss or pepper jack cheese.
Lisa Prince works for the North Carolina Agriculture Department, and hosts the PBS shows “Flavor NC” and “From the Vineyard.” She also appears Fridays on WRAL’s noon news. With kitchen buddy Brian Shrader, she cooks seasonal recipes.
May is blueberry month.
This Friday (May 25th), they’ll be cooking my blueberry ketchup recipe.
In case you can’t tune in, I’ve got the recipe here for you. I’m guessing I’ll have to miss it, because I’ll be in the back yard with my eyes on the sky and my hand on a slingshot. Or, possibly I’ll be out there dressed as a scarecrow.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes, and cooks in Durham. Contact her at email@example.com.
2 ½ cups fresh blueberries
1 medium shallot
1 ¼ cups sugar
½ cup red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Put all ingredients into a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to simmer, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until blueberries have mostly broken down and sauce has thickened, 20 to 30 minutes. Spoon into a large bowl and refrigerate until chilled and thickened, about 4 hours.