A couple weeks ago, my friend Catherine & I went berry picking in Apple Hill. Situated in the foothills about an hour northeast of Sacramento, the Apple Hill area is famous for (surprise, surprise) its apples and all the delicious baked goods that are sold at every farm and stand. During the summertime, Apple Hill is fairly quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of the fall months when crowds go wild with all the apple picking. However, there is still plenty of lovely regional produce to take advantage of during these hot summer months, particularly fresh, sweet berries. It was the first time I'd gone berry picking in an official capacity, and except for the fact that it was already about 90 degrees by 11 a.m., it was a lot of fun. The surroundings were lovely, I took zillions of photos, and I left with a fair amount of blueberries, blackberries and black raspberries without going completely bankrupt.
The beauty of picking your own berries at these farms is that you can get the ripest sweetest berries for a fraction of what you would pay at a grocery store (plus a few for free, should they "accidentally" find their way into one's mouth rather than one's bucket). I'm sure you've all seen those small plastic clamshell containers of blueberries at the grocery store, barely full and priced at around $4-5/container. Sure, you get your berries but they're quite expensive this way, and you don't always get the juiciest, sweetest berries. We were lucky enough to score our blueberries for just $3.50/lb, making it possible for me to leave with about 3 lbs. of deep blue anti-oxidant heaven. Our blackberries and raspberries were slightly more expensive at $4.50/lb and $5.50/lb, respectively, but they were also well worth it. Catherine passed on the black raspberries because she found them too small and seedy for her liking, but I couldn't possibly leave without at least one clamshell container full of bite-sized, solid Chambord! Their distinct flavor is simply irresistible, and they can be pretty difficult to find and/or afford in stores.
Anyway, back to the blueberries. Until this berry picking adventure, I'd never been their biggest fan. The ones I'd tried in the past were either tasteless or perfume-y, definitely not like the sweet perfection of my favorite berry, the strawberry. But the ones I picked straight off the bushes were ripe, sweet, fragrant without being overpowering - they were just perfect! I immediately made some Superfood Nirvana Salad (sans kiwi, sadly) and my mind began buzzing with other recipe ideas. Since I'd been dying to try my hand at a clafoutis but was out of cherries, I thought I'd give it a go with some of my blueberry stash.
Clafoutis (or "clafouti" for the gringos, lol) is another one of those impossibly rich, delicious French dishes that seems more expensive and difficult to make than it actually is. A custard that's thicker and more solid in texture, clafoutis is most commonly made with black cherries, but it can be made with just about any fruit imaginable. Berries lend themselves to this type of dessert quite well since there's no chopping involved, but I've seen variations using anything from peaches to plums to pears, so feel free to get creative with yours. I did just that and adapted this recipe by Dave Lieberman to include some of the sweetly fragrant lemons I'd scored from one of my coworker's trees. Lemon & blueberries have always gone well together in other recipes, so I figured they'd be wonderful together in a clafoutis. The result was a rich, creamy dessert accented by the sweet-tartness of the blueberries and the fragrant aroma of the lemon zest & juice. This is perfect for entertaining guests, as it looks and tastes fabulous but doesn't break the bank! Let's check it out.
Blueberry-Lemon Clafoutis (makes 6-8 servings; total cost per serving: $1.60)
1 1/2 pints blueberries, washed & drained
1 c sugar
1 c milk
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 T lemon zest
3/4 c all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Powdered sugar (for garnish)
Preheat the oven to 350° and place the blueberries in the bottom of a small glass pan (8" x 10" for rectangular pans, 9" for round pans).
In a medium bowl add the eggs and whisk lightly. Next, add the sugar and mix until the mixture becomes pale yellow. Add the milk and whisk together, followed by the lemon juice and lemon zest. Finally, add the flour and pinch of salt and whisk until completely combined.
Pour the mixture over the berries. Place in the center of the oven rack and bake about 45 minutes, or until the center has puffed up and bounces back when lightly pressed. Allow the clafoutis to cool for about 5-7 minutes, then slice into 6-8 pieces. Dust lightly with powdered sugar, garnish with extra blueberries & lemon zest, and enjoy!
(Best when served immediately.)