~Love is Blueberry Oatmeal-Crumble Cookie Squares~
Blueberries are a fruit best served cooked. Simmer down and read on. When it comes to eating fresh, perfectly-ripe, high-quality, locally-grown berries hand-to-mouth, there are three seedier-types I enjoy more -- blackberries, strawberries and raspberries (in that order). I love blueberries, but, it's my opinion that the blueberry is enhanced by cooking. Given a choice, I'll choose the blueberry jam, blueberry pie or blueberry bread pudding over the bowl of fresh blueberries any day of the week -- they even taste better after the little bit of cooking they get in pancakes.
Dare to be a buttery-rich & delicately-crumbly kind of square:
Before I go any further, I probably should mention the other six: Concord grapes, cranberries, strawberries, corn, beans and squash. This means, these plants were in existence before any of our immigrant ancestors arrived in this new world and the Native Americans were eating them and creating their own recipes/uses for them long before they introduced them to the original Colonists. That said, beloved blueberries were domesticated entirely in the 20th century and it did not take long for this "very American berry" to gain the unconditional love of the world.
Lowbush varieties (marketed as "wild blueberries" or "huckleberries") are very small, are harvested by machine and are sold almost exclusively to processing plants who make and sell blueberry products like "wild blueberry pie filling" or "wild blueberry preserves". While this sounds like they'd be at the top of the blueberry class, their flavor is actually disappointingly bland.
Highbush blueberries are the result of the hybridization of wild native plants. They are picked by hand and are sold fresh, representing over two-thirds of the total blueberries sold in our markets everywhere.
Rabbiteyes, which are native to the Southeastern United States were/are called rabbiteyes because the berries turn pink before they turn blue -- the eye color of a white rabbit. They are very similar to highbush blueberries, which are native to northeastern North America. Rabbiteye bushes get quite high, up to 20 feet, and, they bloom earlier in the year than the highbush, which sadly, makes them susceptible to Spring frosts. Highbush are smaller than rabbiteyes and were called highbush simply because they were/are taller than low bush varieties.
Highbush blueberries are what my husband Joe grows in our Central PA backyard. The berries are larger and plumper than rabbiteyes and the fruit is juicier with a thinner skin. Their quality is compromised very little by freezing them (which is great for me because, every year, I have a lot to freeze), while the rabbiteye berry skin tends to get tough when frozen. Rabbiteyes, eaten out-of-hand are a bit sweeter, but in my opinion: highbush berries are truly the best variety for the best price.
When selecting blueberries, it is noteworthy that size is not an indication of flavor, shrinkage is. Always choose blueberries that are plump and look like they are ready to burst. Berries that have begun to shrink and wrinkle, while usable, will be less flavorful. AND, no matter what variety you choose to use, be generous -- cooked blueberry anything should be bursting with berries.
Part One: The 5-Minute Oatmeal-Crumble Cookie Base
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant oats)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup salted butter (1 stick)
1 large egg yolk
no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan
~ Step 1. To prepare the baking pan, spray the inside of an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan with no-stick spray, line the bottom with an 8" x 8" x 2" square of parchment paper, then spray the top of the parchment paper. I use a baking pan with a removable bottom, which makes it easy to remove and slice the cookies squares after baking.
~Step 2. In a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the dry ingredients: the flour, oats, both sugars, cinnamon and salt. Melt the butter in the microwave and allow it to cool slightly, about 2-3 minutes. Lightly beat the egg yolk. Stir the melted butter and the egg yolk into the dry ingredients. A crumbly but cohesive mixture will have formed. Remove and reserve a scant 1-cup of the crumble mixture (this will be used as topping).
Part Two: The 5-Minute Blueberry Layer, Topping & Baking
2 pints fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh or high-quality bottled not from concentrate
2 teaspoons pure blueberry extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon firmly-packed cornstarch
Sugar 'n Cinnamon, for sprinkling on top just prior to baking
~Step 1. In a medium bowl using a rubber spatula, gently but thoroughly stir together the blueberries, lemon juice, blueberry extract, sugar and cornstarch, making sure the cornstarch is incorporated throughout. Scoop and evenly distribute the berry mixture atop the cookie base. Sprinkle and evenly distribute the reserved 1-cup of cookie crumbles atop the berries.
~Step 2. Generously sprinkle Sugar 'n Cinnamon evenly over the top and bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven, 40-45 minutes. The crumble topping will be light golden and berries will be bubbling mostly around the sides of the pan. Remove from oven and cool completely, in pan on a wire rack, 3-4 hours. Refrigerate, slice cold, and, store in refrigerator.
Refrigerate 1-2 hours prior to slicing into squares:
Special Equipment List: 8" x 8" x 2" square baking pan w/removable bottom; parchment paper; fork; 1-cup measuring container; tart tamper; wire cooling rack; large chef's knife; small spatula
Cook's Note: Looking for a perfect companion to blueberry squares? ~ Pucker up for: Triple-Lemon Bars/Squares ~. I am a lover of all things tart and citrusy, and, I consider the lemon the diva of all citrus. Just call me a sourpuss.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)