Not so innocent

After recently buying 3 pounds of blueberries, I spent a few hours at the stove staining every surface and several wooden spoons with home-made blueberry syrup. Inspired by a recent Food & Wine article, I was looking for something to top my greek yogurt for a quick but delicious breakfast.

Don't be fooled into thinking that this blueberry syrup is as innocent as it looks. It can easily be transferred from yogurt to pancakes, or as a finger-licking ribs marinade.

If you're like me, I'm beginning to feel like autumn isn't quite as far away as I thought it was. While it's still sticky-hot here in Chicago, I'm finding myself requesting a table outdoors even when the air conditioning beckons. I know that in a few short months, I'll be chilled to the bone and dreaming of sipping sweat beaded ice-cold drinks on the patio. This is a great way of capturing summer-sweet blueberries and enjoying them long into the autumn.

You may recognize the bottle I used from the spiced vodka I gave away as gifts over the holidays. This too would make a perfect gift and will last for months if stored in the refrigerator and sealed tightly.

Home-made Blueberry Syrup

5 cups (about 1 1/2 lbs) of fresh blueberries
2 cups of sugar
4 cups of water
6 one inch strips of lemon zest removed with a vegetable peeler
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice

In a pot, combine the blueberries with 1 cup of the water. Mash the berries with a potato masher and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain the juice through a sieve into a heat-proof measuring cup, pressing hard on the solids. This will take a little muscle work and patience- you want to squeeze as much juice from the berries as possible. Discard the solids.

Rinse the pot out and combine the rest of the 3 cups of water, sugar, and lemon zest. Bring to a boil and stir continuously until the sugar dissolves. Boil the syrup over moderate heat until it measures 225F on a candy thermometer, or about 20 minutes.

Add the blueberry and lemon juices to the syrup, bring to a boil for 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Let it cool, then discard the lemon zest.

Pour into just-cleaned bottles and seal tightly. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.


Get low

Photo taken by Stacia Marselos
I've been wanting to make this low country boil for several summers and now I know what I was missing. This particular recipe comes from a family friend, Paul Campbell. As far as I'm aware, he made it whilst visiting our place in Northern Michigan several summers back and it's been talked about with a great deal of longing in family food conversations. In general, a seafood boil is popular in many coastal states in the United States, particularly in Louisiana and South Carolina. Maryland and New England have their own versions of seafood boils, but this low country boil is just that- from the low country.

First things first. Your shellfish of choice is crucial. Get it fresh and don't compromise. We used the freshest shrimp and mussels, we could lay our land-locked hands on, but craw fish would be great if you're lucky enough to be in Louisiana. Secondly, it doesn't hurt to get the sweetest sweet corn. At last! Something we mid-westerners can score quite easily!

Lastly, the seasoned broth that your stew cooks in can be tweaked to your tasting (some people add hot sauce, lemon, parsley), but start with a crab boil seasoning packet widely available in US supermarkets. For my friends outside the borders, try this mix, but either way, beware: this is potent stuff! Four of us were hovering over the brew and couldn't stop sneezing. No joke!

Before you embark on making a low country boil, remember a few final tips:
  1. This is simple stuff and it's very easy to make, but you need a very large pot- at least 10 gallons.
  2. I urge you to assign a "Boil Master" who will be in charge of ensuring ingredients are added in the proper sequence and that the water comes to the boil between each addition. Do not make the mistake of giving this job to two people. Arguments can break out. You've been warned.
Typically, this dish is poured out over newspaper on a picnic table where a crowd dives in with juices dribbling down chins. If you want to be a bit more civilized, don't forget the amazing broth at the bottom of the pan. It should be ladled generously over everything and mopped up with crusty bread and a crisp green salad.

Low Country Boil
Adapted from Paul Campbell
Served 6-8

4 stalks of celery, chopped roughly
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 crab boil seasoning bag (or make your own)
3 gallons of water
1 4-5 small red potatoes, scrubbed and cut in half
6 ears of corn, snapped in half
2 lb shrimp, peeled, de-veined and tail left on
1 1/2 lb mussels
3 lb sausages cut into bite size pieces- we used hot Italian and mild Italian
3 tbsp kosher salt
plenty of freshly cracked pepper

Quick tip for mussels: ask your fishmonger to keep them on ice for you. When you get them home, dump them in a colander and rinse while you de-beard them- pulling the little grassy/beardy bits from each shell. Discard any mussels that are already open. If they are open slightly, tap them on the counter. If they don't close shut, discard them.

Add the water to the pot, add the salt, pepper, crab boil seasoning bag, celery and onion. Bring to the boil and simmer briskly for 10-15 minutes.

Add the potatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add the sausages and cook for a further 10 minutes and then add the corn. Bring it back to a boil and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add your shrimp and mussels and put the lid on. Boil for a further 5 minutes and discard any mussels that have not opened during cooking.

Your low country boil is now ready for serving. Pour it over newspaper or ladle it onto a big serving platter. If you're a corn lover like me, you'll want to cook all your corn in the crab boil seasoning from now on!