March 22, 2022. Dear Kids– Let me tell you a story that started out sad and ended up very, very happy- it’s the story of Maine Wild Child & Blueberry Bread. It started in a very homey, country kitchen in Maine that would come to be affectionately known by our family as “The Wink”. The Wink served up hearty, New England comfort food and nightly specials, like Yankee Pot Roast, Clam Cakes and Boiled Dinner, to name a few. The Wink always seemed to be filled with either happy young families or mostly happy senior citizens and rarely anyone in between. You ask, how could such a sad story start out in such a lovely place? Well, it was sad because, in spite of all that The Wink had going for it, it was, nevertheless, the site of the very first, and one of the greatest (not in a good way) grandchild meltdowns ever seen on the east coast- at least in our family.
This epic meltdown occurred during one of our first moves and on the first night after Granny and Gramps were kind enough to come up East and help keep a loving eye on their one and only, dearest grandchild at the time, so Mom and I could take care of some moving business. This also wasn’t their first rodeo, as they had watched their beloved grandchild a few times a week while we still lived in my hometown and “Mom and Dad were at work”. During this time, it was Gramps’ sole mission to have any grandchild of his walking by 8 months, a feat (no Dad Joke intended) apparently everyone on his side of the family had achieved, while Granny offered a much more well rounded approach to the grandchild’s care. Sure, there was an occasional flare up from the grandchild, but nothing like the night they took their “darling” grandchild out to their first dinner in Maine.
There wasn’t much said immediately upon the return from that dinner- Granny looked pale and Gramps mumble something like “Never again!”. From the look on their faces, we knew to leave well enough alone until enough time had passed (just a few days really) so that grandparent love could prevailed to turn this tempestuous dinner out into a humorous and loving story they would retell for years to come.
So, as the story now goes, all was good with the grandchild on the ride over to The Wink and even as everyone settled into their seats. From there, it didn’t take long for the grandchild to tire of “I Spy”, the broken crayons scattered about the table and the lively conversation that included several iterations of Gramps’ “I got your nose!”. Once that happened, there was nothing anyone could do to keep the grandchild from repeatedly screaming at the top of her tiny, yet powerful, lungs, “I WANT TO GO HOME- NOW!”, along with a variety of other toddler demands. Now, Gramps, never one to miss a meal and being on the rather strict side of the table, tried his best to ignore the grandchild and eat his food, but Granny, as most Granny’s do, did everything she could think of- while periodically and profusely apologizing to the waitress and surrounding dinners- to get the grandchild to quiet down. Granny certainly had her work cut out for her and she put her all into it, as evidenced by the rather large doggy bag she brought back to our hotel afterwards, but nothing worked. That was until, a “complimentary” Bread Basket (don’t you just love old timey, country kitchen that offer “free” things like bread baskets and relish trays?) arrived at the table and Granny, with her “Granny senses”, knew enough to fish out the lone piece of blueberry bread hidden among the dinner rolls, rye and other more savory fare to see if that would shut the grandchild up- and, like magic, it did! It was a Maine Wild Blueberry Bread Miracle- or so they said!
Not surprisingly, The Wink would become one of our favorite spots to have dinner when you two were younger and I needed a break in the kitchen and, certainly, whenever Granny and Gramps came to visit- at least once we assured them no one would remember the “incident”, as it was called for a while after that. By then, we knew enough to ask for the bread basket as soon as we saw our waitress and, over time, the owner (the nicest, young Dad and not too much older than I was at the time), would give us an entire basket full of blueberry bread as soon as he saw us sit down. I begged him and even offered up cash for the recipe, but was never able to persuade him to give it up, although I felt, one time, I was very close.
We would move away from The Wink and, once it closed its doors for good, not too long ago, I knew it was time to come up with a recipe of my own for Maine Wild Blueberry Bread- you never know when you might have another wild child or adult on your hands. So, here’s my recipe for a Maine blueberry bread- “Maine Wild Child & Blueberry Bread” that I hope has the versatility to bring comfort to your inner child and outward adult on a cold fall, winter, spring or even summer (at least in Maine) day or offer a satisfying finish to the seafaring flavors of a lobster or seafood bake.
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 60 minutes
- 10 ounces (2 cups) all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 cups Maine blueberries, fresh or frozen
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, and more for pan
- 3/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons molasses
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup buttermilk or other milk in a pinch
- 1-3 tablespoons coarse sugar for topping, optional
COOK AND PLAY
Play “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne as you get to baking up this bread and taste all your troubles fade away as you dig into a slice or two of your blueberry bread. Or, play “Tequila Fever” by The Don Campbell Band and forget about baking anything, but yourself (is it “baking” if you just drink? Don’t answer that- I don’t want to know!) and have a drink- Not- make the bread and drink it with milk!
1. The Dry Bowl. Set up middle rack in oven- preheat to 350°. In a large bowl, whisk flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and, if you have it, lemon zest. Remove 2 tablespoons of the mix and toss with 2 cups of fresh or frozen wild blueberries in a separate, large bowl.
2. The Wet Bowl. In yet another large bowl, use a standing or electric hand mixer to thoroughly mix butter and brown sugar together to a smooth and airy finish (called “creaming”)- about 5 minutes. Mix in molasses, then egg and, lastly, buttermilk. Use a little more butter to liberally and completely coat a non stick loaf pan (known as a “prepared pan”) and set side. If you don’t own a non stick loaf pan, make sure you coat your “stick pan” good with the butter and dust (meaning sprinkle a light coating over the inside of the pan) the pan with flour to be on the safe side.
3. The Bake. Slowly add dry flour mix into wet sugar/butter mix, using mixer on low speed until just combined. Use a large spoon/spatula to gently stir all, but a heaping 1/4 cup of the flour coated blueberries, into batter- trying not to smash berries and discolor batter as you stir. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan and bake in oven. After 15 minutes of baking, spoon remaining blueberries evenly over top of loaf. If you like, also sprinkle sugar evenly over some or all of the top of the loaf. Continue to bake loaf until center is just firm and a toothpick inserted into the middle of loaf comes out clean- total cooking time about 60-75 minutes. If you notice the sides of the loaf getting dark during baking, loosely cover pan with foil until done.
4. The Release. Place pan on wire rack and cool completely. Once loaf is cool, run a small and thin plastic spatula or plastic knife around all edges and under the bread to insure a happy release. Place a large plate on top of the loaf pan, turn loaf pan with plate over so loaf rest upside down on plate on the counter and gently lift pan from bread- if it doesn’t release smoothly use the spatula/knife to encourage it to do so. Slice loaf and serve with cow or plant butter on the side.
The Taste of Maine. Maine blueberry bread is not your delicate, fancy pants, tea party blueberry bread- it’s ruggedly delicious, with the addition of “heartier” ingredients, like brown sugar, molasses, buttermilk (referred to as “sour milk” in older recipes) and, of course, the one and only Maine, low bush wild blueberry to replace the white sugar, sweet milk and high bush blueberries found in blueberry bread “from away”.
Maine Blueberries. Nothing against you, New Jersey (who’s state fruit is the high bush blueberry and is the home of the self proclaimed “blueberry capital of the world), and at the risk of getting “whacked”, I hereby declare that the ultimate blueberry to be the Maine blueberry (who’s state fruit is also the blueberry BTW, but the low bush variety). Now, I like those Jersey berries just fine, but the smaller, sweeter and more intensely flavored Maine blueberry (because it has less water- “zee enimee of flavour!”) is the blueberry for “ME” (Get it? “ME” as in the pronouns and also Maine’s postal abbreviation- and the Dad jokes keep on coming- oh yah!). There’s even an award winning book about Maine blueberries- “Blueberries For Sal”, by Robert McCloskey- the story of a mom who puts her daughter’s life in danger while foraging for Maine blueberries- there just that good! I won’t ruin the ending, but there’s a black bear involved! I read this book to you kids when you were younger; although, it always bothered me that the book didn’t seem to have a problem with Sal’s mom letting sweet, little Sal wander off in the wild. For the record, I always kept an eye on you two in the wild and definitely told you to stay away from wild creatures- especially bears …. and boys!
The Illusion of Levitating Fruit. Picky bakers have spent more time than The Dad trying to get fruit to levitate in baked goods, as opposed to sinking to the bottom, for better fruit distribution in every bite. This has been done by tossing your fruit with a tablespoon or two of flour or mixing 3/4 of the fruit into the batter while waiting for the quick bread to cook for about 20 minutes before adding the remaining 1/4 of the fruit to the top. I’ve tried both approaches together and separately, as well as just adding all the blueberries, “au naturel” (without flour coating), to the batter and all the breads tasted great to me, so you do you, as they say.
Put Some Sugar On It? We have a division in the house when it comes to whether or not to add a crunch of sweet to the top of baked goods, like pies, cookies and blueberry bread, for example. To make everyone happy, at least when it comes to this blueberry bread, I go Swiss Dad and sprinkle a tablespoon or two of coarse sugar on half the loaf.
Sticky Business. No one wants their loaf, or any other baked good, to stick to the pan, so that’s why many bakers offer a variety of methods to prevent this unhappy event- not just copious amounts of butter or oil all over the pan, but sometimes even flour or cocoa powder sprinkled lightly over the butter/oil or even a “parchment sling” (parchment sheets running the width and length of the pan that allow one to “air lift” the baked good from the pan). As for The Dad, flour and powder is messy business and a sling is a bit too dramatic (I mean this is baking not ER triage), so I go with heavy, non stick baking pans that I coat liberally with cow or plant butter and have never had a sticky situation. For added protection, I also use a rack to cool any baked good; make sure any baked good, is in fact, cooled before attempting to free it from its pan; and use a thin, non scrape spatula to work around and under the baked good as best I can. It also helps to place a large plate on top of the baking pan, to “spot” the baked good as you turn the baked good out onto the plate- using the plate to “spot” the baked good so it doesn’t release too fast, leaving pieces behind in the pan.
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