The book Plenty is about a young Vancouver couple, Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon. The two decide to live on locally grown foods for a year. I've just read to the section on blueberries where they find a patch of beautiful, fat juicy ones only to discover that they are being grown for a local Buddhist temple and are not for sale. I don't know, yet, if they talk their way into a sale. Given how personable the couple is, my guess is probably. Putting the book down to attend to chores, I've realized that Smith and Mackinnon have convinced me to seriously consider following their eat-local example. This is the stat that caught me:
According to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, the food we eat now typically travels between 1,500 and 3,000 miles, from farm to plate. The distance had increased by up to 25% between 1980 and 2001, when the study was published.
If I can find cheese, rice, and blueberries locally, I'll be set. I still have plenty of kale, thanks to the good work of an army of aphid-eating ladybugs. I'm starting with blueberries, already convinced, living in Oregon, that cheese is within reach. (I'll write about Tillamook when I get there.) Rice or a rice equivalent might be harder to find. It can wait for the rainy season, a good time for lengthy projects.
Blueberries are food of the gods. Powerful antioxidants, studies are finding that the berries may well reverse short-term memory loss and forestall other signs of aging, such as wrinkles. They promote urinary tract health. The USDA is studying the ability of blueberries to prevent macular degeneration, a retina disease headed many of our ways if we don't figure something out soon. Blueberries are good for our skin, our hearts, and our weight. In a word, blueberries are magic.
They are ripe for the picking right now. If, like me, you are a blueberry aficionado, they can get expensive fast. A quick, unscientific survey of local prices in Eugene confirmed that store-bought berries can't be found for less than $5 a pound. At my favorite U-pick spot, a mere twenty minutes east of town, the cost is way under $2, including gas. This doesn't include the pound or so I feel obligated to eat as I pick.
A morning at a local U-pick supports the farmer, is good exercise, saves money on food costs, and is just plain fun. I take Bodhi the dog, pick for an hour or so, take a break on the way home for a breakfast picnic by the river —an excuse to eat more berries — and spend the rest of the day baking, freezing, and drying.
Seattle has lots of U-pick farms. The Berry Patch off of Highway 167 in Kent is open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, starting at 9 a.m. Blue Dog Farm in Carnation promises organic blueberries for the picking. Blue Dog is a great excuse to spend the morning enjoying Snoqualmie Valley while you work. Canter-Berry Farms in Auburn has a sales room full of blueberry products on the chance that you eat all you pick and still want to take something home.
In Portland, you might want to head for Sauvie Island. Forget watching for sandhill cranes, bald eagles, blue herons, and migrating geese. What you want to do, from the bridge, is head north on Sauvie Island Road or south on Gillihan Road. You will find yourself in the land of u-pick farms — fruits, berries, and flowers all waiting for a new home.
Because I will wrestle with an eyes-bigger-than-my-stomach karma until my last breath, here is the recipe I use to stave off any potential guilt that could come from picking ten pounds of berries when the freezer only has room for four. The pudding works for breakfast (oh. yes.) or as a dessert, or a snack. Plus it uses up any stale, leftover bread ends that have been hanging around for a while. The staler the bread, the better.
Buddha's Blueberry Bread Pudding
4 cups of just about any kind (maybe not dark rye) of bread chunks, an inch or two in size, mixed with 2 tablespoons of melted butter or canola oil 2-3 cups of blueberries (You can decide how much you can bear to cook as opposed to eat raw.) 3 eggs 2 tsp. of ground cinnamon 1 1/2 cups of almost hot water 1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk (The condensed part matters.) 1/4 cup of melted butter or oil 3 teaspoons of vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the bread chunks into a greased, 9-inch baking pan. Square works best, but whatever you have will probably work. Sometimes I use two bread baking pans. Sprinkle the berries over the bread.
In a big bowl, stir up the eggs, then add all the other remaining ingredients. Stir for a minute or two and then pour the mixture over the bread and blueberries. Bake about 45 minutes or until a knife stuck into the center comes out clean or mostly clean.
Try not to eat the pudding straight out of the oven because it will burn the top of your mouth. If you do anyway, your mouth will feel much better by tomorrow.