Inevitably every year I find myself in a bit of a culinary rut during the months of March and April. After the bustle of the holidays, the excitement of roasting root vegetables, and the inevitable sugar high of National Pie Month (religiously observed in our household), the remaining months of winter feel slow and uninspired. I grow weary of eating root vegetables, of slow cooking meats. I’m ready for FRESH and the wait is difficult. This is all to say that when the blueberries start flooding the market in the beginning of summer, I indulge. I help myself to pints and pints of blueberries, shooting my antioxidant intake through the roof and top every dish, from pancakes to pork chops, with blueberries. They’re a little, compact, tart sign from nature that the tides are turning and that summer’s bounty is coming. I, for one, fully embrace signs from nature.
It is fortuitous, perhaps, that I now find myself living a short 36 miles from Burgaw, the home of the North Carolina Blueberry Festival, which celebrated it’s 10th anniversary this June. A few weeks ago we packed into our car (which is not unlike a blueberry in shape and color) and headed up Highway 117, our only expectation being the consumption and celebration of blueberries. Okay, maybe we were also hoping to see someone dressed as a blueberry, a la Willy Wonka. But other than that, we were in it for the ride.
As promised the festival was wonderful. Everything was blue, there was an abundance of blueberry-related foods and crafts and games, and (best of all) farm stands were selling out of pints of berries all over the festival grounds. Hundreds of people gathered to eat and drink and dance in the small town of Burgaw, all in celebration of this fruit. It never ceases to amaze me how food can bring us together.
Pender County is located just north of us, situated between Duplin, Onslow, Brunswick, Bladen, Columbus, New Hanover, and Sampson Counties. It’s home to our favorite place to take Kaylee for a hike, Poplar Grove, part of Topsail Island, Burgaw, the home of the blueberry festival (and Pender’s County seat), and much more. Named for William Dorsey Pender, a Confederate general who was mortally wounded in the battle of Gettysburg, it spans over 930 miles, 62 of which is water, and has a population of around 50,000 people.
Pender County was one of the first counties to reach out to me after I launched Tasting North Carolina with recipes from their cookbook of award winning NC Blueberry Festival recipes. After careful consideration I decided to try my hand at a Blueberry Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting, a recipe submitted by Kelly Griffin of Wallace, NC, and was delighted to have a chance to make it with fresh Pender County blueberries. It was a smash hit around the house, and certainly tasted better than it looked (not really a skilled cake baker over here). Dan has put in an official request for more cake. Perhaps now that we’re seeing more and more stone fruit in the market I’ll indulge him with a peach pound cake.
This post is part of the ongoing series, Tasting North Carolina. Read more about the project here.
Blueberry-Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Kelly Elaine, Griffin Wallace, NC
2 c flour
1 pint fresh blueberries
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 c. whole milk
1 ½ c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 lg. eggs
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter (room temp)
-Preheat oven to 350°.
-Butter three (9 inch) diameter cake pans with 1 ½ inch high sides. Butter pans and dust with flour.
– Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. In a separate bowl toss blueberries in a bit of the flour. Set remaining flour mixture and blueberries aside.
-Stir whole milk, vanilla extract and grated lemon peel in small bowl.
-Beat butter in a large bowl until light and creamy.
-Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture is light and fluffy.
– Add eggs one at a time.
– Add flour mixture to egg mixture a little at a time, alternating with milk.
– Fold in blueberries and divide batter equally among pans.
– Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
– Cool cakes in pans on rack for 10 minutes. Run knife around pan sides to loosen. Turn cakes out onto racks to cool completely.
– Layer cakes with frosting spread generously between layers and on top.
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting:
2 (8-oz.) pkgs. Cream cheese (room temp)
4 c. powdered sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter (room temp)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in powdered sugar. Add vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice.