Solution for your summertime blues

Got the summertime gardening blues? No, not the blues from the 90°+ heat and the 85% humidity—but having too many blueberries.

Howard County Master Gardener Deborah Patton and her husband, Jim Akers, get so many blueberries from their three plants that they can’t eat them all fresh. They give some away and the rest—enough for at least 20 pies—go into their freezer.

“They’re so easy to freeze,” explained Deborah. “I spread them one deep on a rimmed cookie sheet, discarding any leaves, stems, or wrinkled berries. I put the cookie sheet in the freezer for a few hours. When the berries are frozen, I measure them into plastic bags, one cup per bag. A pie takes five cups—five bags—so it’s easy.”

The three blueberries plants came with the property when Patton and Akers bought the historic, 1855 farmhouse seven years ago, so Deborah doesn’t know the specific varieties. “The first plant starts bearing in June, followed by the second plant. The third bears from mid-July through mid-September,” she said.

“Blueberries take a relatively low level of care,” Deborah said. “Jim has fertilized them once or twice with a low-pH azalea fertilizer. We get so many berries we really haven’t bothered to monitor the pH of the soil. We don’t need to spray for disease or insect pests. We should do annual renewal pruning resulting in 5 or 6 main stalks, but we’ve had so many berries we haven’t even done that.”

They also water with a soaker hose in dry weather. “Not enough water—smaller berries. More water—larger berries,” Deborah continued. “We put down sheets of newspaper and hardwood mulch to keep weeds under control.”

Critter problems? “Catbirds love blueberries, and a mockingbird thinks he owns the place,” she answered. To keep the birds out, they’ve surrounded the three plants with a structure made from 1” PVC pipe and covered with black bird netting they purchased at a farm-supply store.

“We cannot just throw the netting over our plants because they are too tall,” she said. “So we built the PVC cage. The upright pipes just slip into holes Jim drilled with an auger he bought at a local hardware store. All the PVC sections are connected with PVC connectors. We didn’t glue it all together because we take it down when we stop picking in September. It’s also important to close the bottom of the netting well or birds will sneak in under it.”

Bushes 1 and 2 have just about ended production for 2010. Bush 3 is covered with bunches of berries beginning to ripen.

“We eat them,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe how many blueberry recipes I have. We give some away. But the surplus goes into our freezer, and I bake somewhere between 20 and 40 pies each year and give them away as thank-you’s.” Eat your heart out, Hallmark Cards.

Secret of a great blueberry pie?

“Lemon zest and juice,” Deborah explained. “You’ve got to add some lemon.”

And, of course, you’ve got to freeze those extra summertime blues.

Additional information: If you want to learn more about blueberries and other small fruits, CLICK HERE to go to the University of Maryland Extension’s HGIC Publication 68, “Getting Started with Small Fruit.” The 4-page publication includes background information plus lists of varieties and a comment about each.
See recipe below in comments!

One Comment on “Solution for your summertime blues

  1. A reader asked if Deborah Patton would be willing to share her blueberry pie recipe. Deborah graciously consented.

    Deborah Patton’s Blueberry Pie
    Adapted from the Joy of Cooking (1997)

    First the filling:
    Combine and let stand for 15 minutes:
    5 cups blueberries, picked over, fresh or frozen
    3/4 to 1 cup sugar (I go for somewhere in between)
    3 1/2 to 4 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
    1 tablespoon strained fresh lemon juice (If I have squeezed more, I use a little more)
    Zest from about half a lemon

    Some pie makers say not to let the blueberries stand for 15 minutes if they are frozen because that makes them juicier. I don't pay attention to that and do okay. But if the berries are frozen I use the full 4 tablespoons of tapioca to compensate for the juice. Five tablespoons is too much.

    Now the crust:
    Sift 2 1/4 cups unbleached white flour. Fill 2 cups and a quarter cup from that mound that you just sifted back into the sifter over a medium bowl. Don't bang the spoon against the cup measure or it will settle and you'll have too much flour.
    Add a little less than 1 teaspoon salt.
    Sift them together.
    In a 1 or 2 cup glass measuring pitcher, pour in 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon of corn or canola oil. Add 1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons of milk (I use skim). Stir with a fork to emulsify. Add to the flour. Mix until just moistened. Cut dough in half and roll out one half for the bottom crust.

    Line a 9″ glass pie pan with the bottom crust.
    Position a baking rack in the lower third of the oven. Slip a baking sheet beneath that rack to catch any dripping blueberry juice.
    Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

    Roll out the top crust. Give the berries another stir and pour the mixture into the bottom crust. Cover with the top crust and do your usual pie-sealing tricks—crimping with your fingers or a fork all around. Slice vents in top crust to let steam escape.

    Bake for 30 minutes, and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until thick juices bubble through the vents, 25 to 35 minutes more.

    Let cool completely on a rack—otherwise the filling gushes and doesn't hold firm when cut.
    Pie is best the day it is baked but can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 day.


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