Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Who Needs Fireworks?
What’s cooking? Blueberry Syrup

Independence Day always comes as something of a shock to my system. It’s not really the Fourth of July, is it? How can it be that half the summer is already over? Of course, it’s not really half over – it just feels that way.

And here in the New York area, the warm weather has the tall buildings emptying out like someone pulled a plug. People are out after work, eating at sidewalk cafes, sitting on neighborhood stoops, and walking their dogs, children, or spouses. Like them, I want to grab each day and hold it tight, to suck every morsel of flavor out of the season before the leaves turn. it seems like it'll last forever. Then, suddenly, June has slipped past, and now July is racing on.

We thought when we got our place in Jersey City that we’d be able to see the fireworks, but noooo. Almost the minute we arrived, the pyrotechnic powers that be decided to move the whole shebang upriver – too far for viewing from our building. Bummer. But even as I moped around the apartment feeling sorry for what we were missing, I stopped at the window, looked south, and counted 10 separate celebrations off in the distance in NJ and Staten Island that were at least visible from here, and another three in Bklyn. Tiny bursts of color and fire, signalling everyone’s desire to celebrate summer or independence or our country or all three. It’s a very joyful sight.

Moreover, Manhattan has its own light show every night – available only to the folks in NJ. So now I’m pretty sure we’re really very lucky.

 * * *

It must be the height of the blueberry season in NJ, because the farmers’ markets are loaded with them. Which means it’s time for me to make blueberry syrup. I discovered this super-easy recipe last year in Food & Wine magazine, and couldn’t stop making it. I gave it to most of my friends, I froze it, I put it on everything from ice cream to cottage cheese to chicken (as a glaze before baking). What I like most about it – aside from the truly pure blueberry flavor – is that it’s not as sweet as most syrups. And while it’s a bit late for recommending a red, white, and blue dessert, summer isn’t really even half over; this would be the perfect add-on to strawberry shortcake or angelfood cake with strawberries or raspberries. Happy summer, everyone!

Blueberry Syrup (adapted from Food & Wine magazine)

1½ pounds blueberries (5 cups)
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
Six strips of lemon zest (use a vegetable peeler to get strips about ½ inch wide and 1-2 inches long)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a pot, combine the blueberries with 1 cup of the water. Using an implement like a potato masher (a large round wisk might also work), crush the berries and bring to a simmer. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Strain the juice into a heatproof measuring cup, pressing hard on the solids. Discard the solids.

Rinse out the pot. Add the sugar, lemon zest and the remaining 3 cups of water and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil the syrup over moderate heat until it registers 225° on a candy thermometer (about 20 minutes). Add the blueberry juice and lemon juice and boil over high heat for 1 minute. Let the syrup cool, then discard the lemon zest. Pour the syrup into just-cleaned bottles. Seal and refrigerate for up to 6 months.

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