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5/100 Pender County Blueberry Lemon Cake

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Blueberry Ginger Lemonade

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Wilmington is known for many things. Its Civil War History, its incredible beaches, its thriving film industry, and its rich collection of fossils. Thanks to a perfect storm of sea level rise, hurricanes, and time treasure hunters flock to Wilmington to search the sand dunes and the sea floor.

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A lot of what is desirable and available are megalodon teeth, giant teeth belonging to prehistoric sharks that lived between 25 million and 1.5 million years ago. The predator megalodons would follow whales to shallow water and attack, shedding hundreds of thousands of teeth in the process (shark teeth break off like our fingernails break off and are constantly regrowing). These then-shallow waters now sit 25+ miles offshore in 90+ feet of water and every hurricane that blows through knocks a bunch of new teeth up for discovery.

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This is all to say that last year the Capt’n (Pappie) acquired some dive site locations for Wilmington megalodon ledges and is taking full advantage of our proximity to these ledges. He’ll be doing dives out of Wilmington throughout the summer, which means we’ll be seeing a lot more of him this summer than I have since I was 19. Which I’m pretty psyched about.

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One Saturday while he and my stepmom were here he offered to do a dinner cruise around Wrightsville Beach on his boat Tortuga, so we invited some friends to join us and headed out for a lovely night on the water. I made fried chicken, shrimp & grits, cole slaw, s’mores bars, and vodka blueberry lemonades. We (my stepmom and I- she is a great sous chef, by the way) also made a beautiful cobb salad but we left it at home. C’est la vie!
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We met our friends Angie and Kevin shortly after we moved and we’ve loved getting to know them. Angie is from Raleigh and we share a lot of favorite childhood memories in places like Jordon Lake and Shackleford Banks and Dan and Kevin share the displaced-Northerners outlook on life in the South, which makes for interesting conversations when we start talking culture. It also helps that Kaylee is obsessed with their dog Mink.

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We putted along, talking food and family and sharing stories. Dad cruised us past the yacht club where his parents lived and worked when he was born, which brought all new meaning to my favorite anecdote of my grandma’s. Apparently that summer when she was pregnant with my dad she’d have my grandpa dig a hole for her in the sand so she could tan her back (sunbathing was a favorite pastime of hers), garnering questions from friends about whether or not she was trying to “fry that baby to (her) backbone.” If I recall correctly he was born past his due-date, so maybe their questions had merit.

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(I know, the ponytail is epic right now)

One of the things that I was most excited about in this move back to North Carolina was getting to spend exponentially more time on the water. And while eventually we’d like to get a boat of our own (we need to get a 4 wheel drive  vehicle first, which will probably only happen once we have kids and officially outgrow our tiny hatchback) I’ll be taking full advantage of having Tortuga Charters docking in our neck of the woods.

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Blueberry Lemonade

Serves 6

Juice of 12 lemons

1 pint blueberries

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

2″ fresh ginger

Tonic

Vodka

Heat sugar, water, and ginger in a saucepan. Simmer until sugar has dissolved. Cool completely.

Muddle your blueberries in the bottom of each glass and top with 1oz simple syrup, 1 oz lemon juice, and 2 oz vodka. Mix well. Top off with tonic, adding more or less depending on how strong you’d like it. I made these in mason jars and stuck them (lids on!) in the cooler, which was the most fantastic way ever to bring mixed drinks on the boat. We’ll be doing this again when we picnic!

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Honey Pie

honey pie 1 Yesterday I celebrated the end of my first school year as a Montessori preschool teacher. Since November I’ve been with a local school that serves 3-6 year olds (and growing!). It’s a bit of a career shift away from Museum Education, but one that I’ve been happy I’ve made every day since I started. The commute is an easy bike ride from our house, the families we serve are lovely, and I adore my two coteachers. It’s been wonderful working with the same students day in and day out, getting to know them as independent and creative people. I feel so lucky to be a part of their lives, and they definitely keep me on my toes!

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For our end-of-the-year celebration we had a potluck picnic at Greenfield Lake, a lake in downtown Wilmington that is gorgeous, huge, and home to a fair amount of alligators (Dan saw his first alligator in the wild yesterday!). We gave each student a certificate and a rose (a Montessori tradition), sang songs, and ate as a community. It made me feel so thankful for this Wilmington family we’ve been welcomed into. We’ve only been here 7 months and yet this feels more like home than I could have ever imagined.

honey pie 4 For the celebration pie I was able to get my hands on local wildflower honey, local strawberries, and local blueberries. The pie was so simple but the flavor was overwhelmingly honey. It was the perfect Spring dessert- light, bursting with flavor, and just sweet enough.

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crust:

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

Pinch of ginger

Pinch of cinnamon

1/4 cup shortening

1 stick butter

1/2 cup cold water

filling:

1 cup wildflower honey

3 eggs

3 tbsp flour

1 tsp vanilla

Pinch of salt

topping:

2 pints strawberries

2 pints blueberries

3 tbsp wildflower honey

Stir together dry ingredients for flour. Work in shortening. Cube butter and work it in with your hands until the texture of the dough is like coarse cornmeal. Stir in water, a little at a time, until a ball forms. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.

Melt butter. Mix together butter, honey, and vanilla. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add flour and salt.

Roll the dough out and press into a pie dish. Heat the oven to 400 and pour the filling into the crust. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes and then drop to 350 for an additional 50 minutes. Pie should be golden brown. Let rest for 2 hours or until center has firmed.

Hull and halve strawberries. Toss berries in honey and spread over pie once set.

Slice and serve.

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