Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ely Style Blues

          Well, put away the tank tops and forget that I mentioned summer.  One day in the eighties and it’s back to wind, forties and rain.  I had to dig through my closet and uproot the scarves and hats again in the futile hope that I would not freeze during my yearly trip in to Ely’s Blueberry Arts Festival.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that I dug quite deep enough.  The real problem here is the amount of fair food I bought to help me stay warm.  I felt sorry for the ice cream venders as I waited in line for my second funnel cake.

          Ely has a population of roughly 3,500 people.  So when 40,000 tourists sweep through its narrow streets during the all-famous Blueberry Festival, our little town is—to say the least—swamped.  And while the limited parallel parking prompts me to scowl at random strangers, I cannot say that I disagree with people’s enthusiasm for the festival.  Hundreds of white tents sprout seemingly overnight in Whiteside Park, filled with local arts, imaginative jewelry, handcrafted furniture, northern foods and—of course—an entire aisle dedicated to greasy food.  Not only do a wide array of local artists have the opportunity to display their work, tens of thousands of tourists get to sample the unique flavor that is Ely…that is the blueberries, not the grease.

          While I wholeheartedly support Ely and its endeavors towards the arts, after three days of crowds, noise and heavy food, I am always more than ready for things to get back to normal.  This year, I decided that the best ‘nightcap’ to the Blueberry Arts Festival would be a trip to pick just that…blueberries—Ely style.  After traumatizing my mother for twenty minutes of back-country four-wheeling (my arms are bruised from her death-grip), we made it to the little blue jackpot.  Aptly named the ‘secret blueberry patch’, all I had to do was flop down in the sun warmed grass and begin tossing handfuls of berries into a container.  Two hours later and we had enough blueberries, June berries and raspberries to fill three pies.  Another half an hour and my mouth is dyed purple and I feel like a blueberry myself.

          The great thing about picking berries is that they are best when squished into some kind of dessert.  All of the way back I was wondering what this particular batch of berries wanted to be cooked up as.  But since I let my mother drive home and my thoughts were interrupted by flashes of imminent, fiery death, I didn’t really have a chance to make up my mind until I was soaking the berries in our kitchen sink.  Blueberry cobbler?  Blueberry crisp?  Ice cream?  Milk shakes?  Crepes?  Pancakes?  Really…is there anything that we haven’t thought to put a blueberry in?  Probably not…Anyway, I finally decided, “go big or go home!”  So, two blueberry-June berry-raspberry pies: coming up!

          The trick with any pie crust, as my mother has taught me, is to make sure the water and butter are both chilled before adding them to the flour-salt-sugar mixture.  It’s the transition from cold to hot that make a good crust perfectly flaky every time.  So, following these instructions to the letter, I quickly did the lattice work on top of our pies before tossing them into the fridge to cool off while our oven got heated up.  To kill some time, we even made a cinnamon roll out of the extra dough.  I have to say…that is highly recommended.


          The smell alone was worth all of the hours picking.  Our kitchen was slowly filled with the warm aromas of berries, caramelizing sugar and piecrust.  Even with the cinnamon roll sitting in front of me, it was all that I could do not to rip open that oven door and tell the pie, “that’s long enough, chum!”  It was food-torture at its finest.  Or perhaps this blog is, because I have to say…it was delicious.  ;)


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