Blueberry Buckle & Hot Summer Nights
It’s still very hot and sunny in Ireland. I’ve been spending my days out on the patio with a good book and my feet propped up. It’s not that I don’t have other things to do, it’s just that, with the heat and the being pregnant, my feet have a tendency to swell up to the size of balloons. It’s uncomfortable and very unsightly!
It’s even warmer in the upstairs of our house, since, as we all know, heat tends to rise. So even though it’s lovely and cool in the evenings and early mornings, our bedroom is an oven from sucking up the heat all day. That’s ok, though, I’m still loving this weather (Patrick less so, since he has to work in un-air conditioned circumstances in a shirt and pants). It’s only Wednesday but I’m already looking forward to the weekend; to the beach and the cold, cold ocean.
Working in a restaurant kitchen in Toronto during the summer is a slow form of torture; you’re in front of a burning gas range or 500 degree pizza oven while it’s 30+ degrees outside. Whenever I needed something from the walk-in fridge, I used to linger an extra minute or two to stay cool.
Toronto has been recently plagued with flash flooding and the power has been out during the busiest time of the summer for chefs – Summerlicious. The participating restaurants have set menus for lower-than-normal prices, making even the finest dining establishments accessible to all. This means it’s crazy busy this time of year. I saw a former co-worker’s photo of he and his cooks working the line by candle light as the power had gone out during service. I didn’t envy them.
I remember these things when I’m about to complain about how hot I feel.
In between reading (The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht; very good so far), tanning, lounging, necessary foot elevation and hanging laundry on the line I managed to get a bit of baking done yesterday. I said a bit, because I literally only had the oven on long enough to pre-heat and bake the Blueberry Buckle I had whipped up.
A buckle is a traditional East Coast dessert (in both Canada and the Northeastern US) made with seasonal fruit or berries, a streusel topping and a dense, cakey base. You could call it a coffee cake; it wouldn’t be far off. But back home we call it a buckle. You take names of things for granted growing up, so I did a bit of research as to why we call it a buckle. It turns out that when the cake batter rises around the fruit, the streusel topping cracks, or buckles. Hence the name! Straightforward enough.
You can make buckle with any kind of fruit, but in Nova Scotia the obvious favourite is wild blueberry, which we enjoy in the summertime. I had a few pints of blueberries that I picked up at Lidl. They were from France, much larger than the ones back home and much less sweet, but they still did the job. It would be much better with smaller, wild blueberries. I adapted the recipe from an old Cape Breton cookbook that had been gifted to me by my Aunt Flora.
This cookbook, entitled St. Ann’s Heritage Book, Folklore, History and Recipes, has everything from recipes for cherry bark cough syrup to the traditional recipes brought over by our Scottish ancestors, to the recipes adapted to the produce the settlers found once they arrived (for example, blueberries and seafood). I don’t think this cookbook exists anywhere else, except for those who bought it when it was first published many years ago, so I’m a lucky girl to have gotten hold of it. It’s a gold mine of traditional Cape Breton recipes. An excerpt:
“Looking back, we wonder at the rigidity and commitment of life then, but on the whole, people were happy in the Scottish communities of Cape Breton.”
A lot has changed since the Scots first settled our little island, but the people of Cape Breton are still among the most content in the world. Recipes like this boost our already sunny outlook. Hope you like it!
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius, no fan). Butter a small cake or casserole dish.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and continue to mix until well combined.
- In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the creamed butter mixture in two parts, alternating with the milk. Mix all until well combined.
- Pour batter into the greased cake pan and sprinkle blueberries over the top.
- In a small bowl, mix the 1/2 cup flour with the brown sugar, cubed butter and cinnamon. Rub together with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle streusel mixture over the top of the blueberries.
- Bake the buckle for 35-40 minutes. The streusel should be golden brown and the cake should be cooked through, but very moist. Serve warm on it’s own or with cream, custard or ice cream.
If you’re interested in the difference between cobblers, buckles, grunts and crumbles (since they are all similar but differ regionally), Kim Severson of The New York Times wrote an excellent article on these old fashioned desserts.