“It happens every time, they all become blueberries!”-Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
That horrific scene where Violet Beauregard plumps up like a ripe blueberry after chewing a rather special piece of gum devised by Willy Wonka will forever haunt me. I don’t even need to watch Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to clearly remember Violet’s regrettable action when she snatches the gum from Wonka’s hand and stuffs it into her mouth, completely disregarding his warning “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!” We’re forced to watch in revulsion as she describes tasting a three-course meal that begins with tomato soup and ends with blueberry pie, her ultimate downfall. Though all of the “nasty, mean little children” end up tormented in one way or another, Violet’s incident always disturbed me most of all … perhaps because aside from Mike Teavee shrinking into the size of a toy soldier, no other kid is shown to go through any drastic physical changes. Also, the thought of being “juiced” by a bunch of orange-faced pygmies from Loompaland gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Thankfully, Roald Dahl, Gene Wilder and the folks in Hollywood did not manage to put a dent in my verging-on-obsessive love of blueberries. Though the summer months in Louisiana make me dread all sorts of things – intolerable heat and humidity, cockroaches, scary thunderstorms and did I mention cockroaches? – one thing I always look forward to is a fresh supply of local blueberries. The markets are filled with little plastic crates of blueberries that I buy in bulk and freeze at home, filling my daily breakfast need for blueberry, full-fat Greek yogurt and homemade granola. I used to hold out till Hubig’s released their blueberry pies, shunning the other flavors during these month of blueberry-filled bliss. Though Hubig’s has not returned yet (and doesn’t seem likely to do so anytime soon), there are plenty of other chefs and proprietors out there willing and able to give me my summertime fix.
Located inside the Ace Hotel on Carondelet Street, Josephine Estelle is one of the hottest new restaurants in the city. Chef Phillip Mariano, formerly chef de cuisine at Domenica, is knocking our socks off with asparagus and pimento cheese, gnocchi with Gorgonzola and soft shell crab po-boys with red-eye mayo, fava beans and bacon, but it’s an item on their dessert menu that really stands out. Feast your eyes (and your tongue) on their Blueberry Crostata made with fresh, local blueberries and mascarpone cheese sprinkled with maple-tahini granola and topped with a dollop of tart, lemon gelato. It seems they make this crostata with the freshest fruit available, so you better get yours before they’re all gone!
Speaking of elusive desserts, every once in a while, Maple Street Patisserie will throw out a new and beautiful pastry gem in their dessert case and recently, I happened upon another. It was just a simple fruit tart with a shortbread crust and not-too-sweet pastry cream topped with fresh, beautiful blueberries drizzled only slightly with glaze. Though difficult to eat, the blueberries tumbled everywhere with each forkful, it tasted like summertime in every bite! These stunning fresh-blueberry tarts aren’t always available, but I’m sure they’d whip up a few if you asked nicely.
Berries are getting hoppy in the New Orleans brewing-universe as Abita just released a new seasonal flavor Blueberry Wheat. It has a crisp, summertime malt flavor with the scent and hint of fresh, Louisiana blueberries. It’s not too sweet, but fresh and light and the perfect accompaniment at a rollicking fish-fry or even just kicking back after a grueling day at work.
When it comes down to it, nothing is better than fresh-picked blueberries, still warm from the summer sun and there’s quite a few spots within driving distance where you can pick them for yourself! Pack your car with family and friends and head out to Ridemore Ranch & Berry Farm in Covington or Blue Harvest Farms in Bush, Louisiana and spend the day picking your own beautiful blueberries. It just doesn’t get any better, or fresher, than that!
*Article originally published in the July 2016 issue of Where Y’at Magazine