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Stalking the Elusive Blueberry Buckle

Stalking the Elusive Blueberry Buckle

By Deb Thomas  

HVFM - Blueberries from Wellstone

Blueberries from Wellstone Farm: Photo by Gail Reynolds

It’s almost blueberry time. That means it’s time to make blueberry everything: pancakes, muffins, cakes, cobblers, tarts, Dutch Babies, smoothies, ice cream, gratins, scones, slumps, grunts, crumbles, pan-dowdies, Italian Ices, Brown Betties, and crisps. In other words, a lot of pies and cakes dripping or studded with purple-ish, indigo jewels from the fruit gods and goddesses; I can’t get enough. The best news is, you don’t have to be a Michelin Star chef to make any of them. As for me, give me the purist’s version; plain old blueberries. Wait. I mean plain old blueberries if they are in a buckle. A blueberry buckle, that is. It is my favorite; my blueberry heaven on earth. It is the Magna Carta, the zippidy doo-dah, and the ooo-la-la of desserts for me. Extra adornments aren’t necessary, but I won’t say no to an accessory spoon of crème fraiche, whipped cream, or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. If only—I could find the right recipe. You see, that one recipe which was my first introduction to this delicious concoction, has been an elusive game of blueberry hide and seek.

I’ve learned there are as many blueberry recipes; baked, cooked, stewed, frozen or pureed, as there are regions of our country. In New England, we have retained many traditional methods of cooking from the earliest European immigrants. The settlers had to improvise and adapt tried and true English recipes and cooking styles to their new homes’ primitive kitchens and baking equipment. One type of cooked pudding, much like the thick style steamed pudding they knew from their English kitchens, was made on top of the stove. In Massachusetts this pudding developed through time to have a layer of floured crust, and came to be called a grunt, due to the plop, plop sound and hiss of steam escaping the cooking fruit on the stovetop. Elsewhere in New England, fruit cooked on top of the stove in this manner came to be known as a slump. “Slumps are grunts that are baked uncovered in the oven instead of steamed on the stovetop. Slumps can also be made in a casserole dish. They supposedly got their name because of the way the dish slumps over once spooned onto the plate, or as an ode to the blissful effect it has on the eater once he takes his first bite.” (see this article for more info).

But I was after something called a buckle; served at a party over thirty years ago, on a desert table laden with riches. One bite and I was a goner. I heard blueberry in the title, and it became my favorite blueberry dessert. Maybe because it was done to perfection; not too gooey, but filled with plump berries, and crispy here and there, and buttery, and, well–finding this one perfect recipe became a quest. I learned that a buckle is supposed to be cake-like too, and so stuffed with fruit that the fruit sinks and the cake batter then encases the craters. The surface buckles as it folds in on itself. Some versions even have a streusel topping.

Each one I tried was good; yet I wanted the same center which I remembered from that first one, as being very dense with the fruit held together in a kind of gel, or a jam, but not too much. “You mean a pie? A crumble? A clafouti with blueberries? A crisp?” friends would ask me. “No. A buckle,” I’d reply. I would describe this to chefs, bakers, friends and family, but no one knew what I was after. Clearly I was asking the wrong people; innocents all of them! Because I know once anyone tries a buckle, they’d surely remember it. Or, maybe—they were guarding it from duplication? My mom kept insisting she had a blueberry crisp something, which I tried, and is good, but it’s just not there.

The recipe I was looking for needed to account for an almost custard-y base, a little like thick and moist and dense, like bread pudding. I began collecting and trying recipes, and finally settled on one from Martha Stewart, gleaned from the pages of her magazine. I tinkered around with it by adding more blueberries, and twice the butter and eggs, plus a half cup of plain Greek yogurt. It was dense, alright. Not what I remember. Almost, but not quite there yet.

Mostly, I enjoyed the quest and my family has too. Along the way we tweaked some of our family recipes for coffee cakes and layer cakes to incorporate a blueberry center. Not quite the same, but nice enough. One of the best cake desserts my mom makes is a Greek sponge cake, or Pantespani, always on the menus at our house for family dinners. It works very well as a base for many fruit toppings, of course, a warm blueberry sauce is wonderful way to experience this too. The dessert is a rich but light cake (even though it uses a dozen eggs) with a bright lemon taste, and it is very sweet due to the traditional syrup poured on top. Traditionally, this has a fine dusting of chopped walnuts and cherries in the center of each serving. I have also made a lemon glaze, and that’s a special kind of bliss, too. It’s really nice with strong coffee, maybe some Greek folk songs on the high-fi. Just like my Greek Grandparent’s house.


I like cookbooks

Back to the hunt. Three years ago, I received a mystery package in the mail, from a cousin. I’d written to ask her for some recipes from when we were younger, and also inquired about the buckle; did she ever have one, and, if so, did she have a recipe? She sent me a plastic ring-binder type church cookbook, printed in 1980. She never had a buckle, but thought one of those recipes would work as my elusive buckle. It was the best gift ever. The recipe she wanted me to try was for a pound cake. A very dense, moist Bundt pound cake with apple filling, but easily converted to use blueberries. Well, why not? Hallelujah, Beulah; it’s just what I wanted.


Cousin Rhelda’s contribution to my quest

Here we go, then. Our Connecticut blueberry season will be starting in a week or two. I’m hoping for a good crop from local farms; I’ve already made room in the freezer. So, put on the coffee pot mom; I’ll bring the Nana Mouskouri CD and the buckle. Or, the Bundt; the Blueberry Buckle Bundt. It’s just right.

Blueberry Bundt

Blueberry Buckle in a bundt pan

Read More About it:

Health: Scientists have shown that blueberries are loaded with compounds (phytonutrients) that may help prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Blueberries may also improve short-term memory and promote healthy aging. Blueberries are a low-calorie source of fiber and vitamin C — 3/4 cup of fresh blueberries has 2.7 grams of fiber and 10.8 milligrams of vitamin C. (taken from this website).

Pick Your Own in Connecticut: Connecticut boasts a great supply of Pick Your Own Go farms; go to the website for the CT Department of Agriculture to find a PYO location near you.

Connecticut Weekly Ag Report: For this same time (week of July 7) in 2015—a great article on blueberry crops in Connecticut and features Dzen Farm in East Windsor here.

The Recipes:

Crème Fraiche: one cup heavy cream plus 2 TBSP buttermilk in glass bowl. Keep covered on counter from 8 to about 24 hours or sooner. It’s perfect when it is very thick. On the counter for that long? No worries; those good-for-you acids in the buttermilk prevent harmful bacteria from growing. After it thickens, give it a wicked good stir and keep in the refrigerator for a few days. Serve a generous dollop to the side of your grunt, slump or buckle. Any leftover after the second day I’ve used in making creamy homemade salad dressings.

Pantespani or, Greek Sponge Cake: Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a large 18 x 13 inch baking pan (it’s a half-sheet commercial size sheet cake pan, but we use a 13 x 9 inch as well, the cake will just be thicker). Remember that you will need to adjust baking times according to which size pan you use. Less time for the larger pan, thinner resulting cake. More time – fatter cake.

Syrup: First, make the syrup up ahead of time in a small saucepan. Keep it ready on stove top while cake is baking: 2 cups sugar, 2 cups water, juice of one whole lemon. ALSO: zest this lemon now, as you will use it in the cake batter.

Cake: 12 eggs–separated, 2 cups sugar, 2 cups cake flour, 2 TBSP baking powder, zest of 1 lemon, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 2 tablespoons optional whiskey or brandy.

Directions: In large mixing bowl, cream sugar and egg yolks and mix well. Add flour, baking powder, lemon zest, vanilla and brandy, and mix well. Next, gently beat egg whites until frothy in separate deep bowl, it is fine to make them into a meringue, but it’s not necessary. We used a hand beater when I was growing up which is still a great “What’s it?” gift to find for the younger chefs on your gift list. Fold in beaten egg whites to the rest of the cake batter and mix gently. Pour into greased cake pan and bake for approximately 30 minutes for a commercial half sheet and around 45-55 minutes, if you are using a 13 x 9 inch pan. When cake is done (resist the urge to open the oven except at the end to see if it is done), it should be a light golden brown on top. While still in the pan, using a sharp serrated knife, cut on the diagonal into traditional diamond shapes. Immediately pour slightly cooled syrup over the top to be absorbed into the cake for about 10 minutes. Let cool a bit more and serve when desired. Add warmed blueberry sauce, I dare you. Carbs be damned.

Blueberry Buckle Bundt (originally titled “Georgia Apple Pound Cake” by Mrs. Barbara Diewald – St. Christopher Paris, Detroit, Michigan, and heavily embellished here from original after my trials and errors):

Do first: Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix in separate bowl: 4 cups washed blueberries, ¼ cup hot water, 1 generous TBSP tapioca, and set aside. Grease and flour large tube pan (Bundt).

Batter: In second larger bowl, cream together ¾ cup butter, 2 cups sugar (to your taste), 2 TSP vanilla, 3 eggs, 2 TSP baking soda, 1 TSP salt and 3 cups flour. Add half the batter to bottom of pan, then all the blueberry mix, then add the remaining batter. Bake for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes (or less if your oven is older and runs hotter, like mine), check for doneness by seeing that top is browned, and buckled.

Glaze: I don’t use this, but you may want to try it: Put 1/3 cup butter, ½ cup brown sugar, and 2 TSP milk into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour glaze over cake.

Blueberry Gratin, or; Slump, Grunt, Hurry Up:

(Written from my mom’s handwriting and copied from a baking program):

Preheat oven to 410F. (By the way, the word “gratin,” as in au gratin, normally associated with cheese, and breadcrumbs, has its roots in the French word grate, or grater. It means to grate or scrape off the side of the dish or pan).

Generously apply non-stick cooking spray, or grease or butter a gratin dish, set it aside. In another bowl, cream together 4 oz butter at room temperature, 1 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 4 oz Greek yogurt (or 4 oz cream cheese), 1 tsp vanilla, 2 eggs, ¾ cup almond flour (almond meal), and before you add them—sprinkle about 2 TBSP tapioca over the blueberries, then gently fold them into the batter and pour into the baking dish. Bake for about 40 minutes, a little less if you have a fast oven; you want the crusty part to be deeply golden brown, not burned. The blueberries will be oozing and bubbling up from below; you will need to scoop with a big serving spoon. If you want it right away, some vanilla ice cream will cool it.