Grow your own or buy local for a fresh seasonal treat.
Tom McMillan knows his blueberries. He once grew blueberry bushes on 30 acres of his land in Escambia County and headed up the county’s blueberry growers association. “Now I’m more of a hobby farmer,” says the Brewton businessman, but he’ll still have plenty of berries to sell at the upcoming Alabama Blueberry Festival this month (see story, page 45).
Blueberries grow well in acidic soil, he says, and they like piney woods, which are abundant in Escambia County and much of South Alabama. “You see pine trees, and you’ll see blueberries,” he says. “The best thing you can do is mulch them with a lot of mulch and that protects the roots. They don’t require a lot of fertilizer. Really, the less you do to them, the better off they are.”
Growing your own blueberries isn’t hard, but it’s recommended you plant more than one bush so they cross-pollinate with each other and set fruit. Blueberries generally come in the middle of May and bear fruit until early July. “By about the 4th of July they’re pretty much done,” says McMillan. He grows mainly the Climax and Premiere varieties at his Knapdale Farms, named after the region in Scotland where the McMillan clan and his ancestors are buried.
If you’re not able to grow your own, no worries. Blueberries are abundant in Alabama this time of year, and are available at farmer’s markets, grocers, curbside stands and you-pick farms. Find locally grown blueberries through Sweet Grown Alabama’s website: sweetgrownalabama.org/find-sweet-grown. However you get your blueberries, you’ll want to try some of our reader-submitted recipes that show how versatile this fruit can be.
Blueberry Festival returns
The Alabama Blueberry Festival returns Saturday, June 19, marking the 40th year of the festival in Brewton. The Greater Brewton Area Chamber of Commerce had to cancel the festival last year due to the pandemic, but organizers are looking forward to welcoming crowds back this year. Originally begun by the local Lions Club and Kiwanis Club to promote blueberry growers in the area, the festival grew so large that the chamber took over its administration, according to Judy Crane, executive director.
The event usually has about 120 vendors, but because of the need for social distancing, booths will be spaced out and there may not be as many, she says. But there will be plenty of arts and crafts booths; a classic car show featuring Dennis Gage, star of “My Classic Car” on YouTube; children’s activities including a rock wall, inflatables, and obstacle course; live entertainment, and of course, blueberries.
Blueberry bushes will be for sale, as will blueberries grown by local businessman Tom McMillan (see story, page 44) on his Knapdale Farms. Blueberry ice cream, made just for the festival by Cammie’s Old Dutch Ice Cream Shoppe in Mobile, will be available by the gallon or in cups. Local cooks will make large batches of blueberry cobbler and blueberry crunch desserts, and other food vendors will have their specialties available.
Alabama Blueberry Festival
Saturday, June 19, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Jennings Park, 201 St. Nicolas Ave., Brewton
on Facebook; (251) 867-3224
Blueberries are the perfect fruit. In a world of endless dessert options, cake ranks close to the top. Cakes can be made so many different ways and to fit so many levels of sweetness. So what makes this month’s recipe for Blueberry Cake almost perfect?
We took a standard vanilla cake recipe, added blueberries and a little lemon to it and the result was a perfect recipe. Recipes are meant to be owned, modified and given new life, to be handed down from one generation to the next. For years, people have taken something good and made it great. We hope you do the same with this recipe and it becomes an heirloom in your family as well!
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon for berries
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups self-rising flour, divided into 13/4 cup for cake and 1/4 cup for berries
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups blueberries (thawed if using frozen)
2/3 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix berries with 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Set aside.
Cream butter, lemon zest and sugar with a mixer until smooth. Add egg and mix well. Mix in vanilla well. Add flour, salt and buttermilk and mix well.
Gently fold in blueberries. Grease loaf pan well. Pour cake into prepared pan. Bake 60 minutes. Cool 15 minutes in pan. Turn cake out and allow to cool 5 to 10 minutes more. Slice, serve and enjoy!
Cook of the Month: Olivia Vaclis, Baldwin EMC
This month’s winner, Olivia Vacalis of Fairhope, grew up in “a foodie family” in Mobile, where her father was a wholesale grocer with family roots in Greece and her mother was a wonderful Southern cook. “We always had unusual foods you couldn’t find in the grocery store,” she remembers, including a half-gallon jug of feta cheese swimming in brine. “She (her mother) would throw feta in a lot of stuff,” says Olivia, not just salads. One day she made a blueberry pie and tossed a handful of feta cheese on top. The family liked it. Then, years later, Olivia was making her own blueberry pie and didn’t have enough feta, so she added goat cheese. “It just kind of evolved from that,” she says. “The feta makes it creamier, and the goat cheese gives it the tang.” The pie is a perfect use for summer blueberries, which are plentiful at farms in Baldwin County, and you can serve it warm, at room temperature or cold. She recommends a homemade pie crust. “The real secret, though, is the basil,” she adds. She cuts up fresh basil leaves until it looks like enough, and the added spice is the perfect complement to the fruit and cheeses. – Lenore Vickrey.
Blueberry Goat Cheese/Feta Pie
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon Crisco
3 tablespoons cold water
Cinnamon sugar, enough for dusting
Cut the shortening into the flour/salt mixture. Add cold water. Mix with hands and roll out into a 9-inch pie crust. Pierce the bottom of the pan in several places with a fork and sprinkle a little sugar and cinnamon over the bottom.
1/2 cup goat cheese
1/4 cup feta cheese crumbles
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
Generous dash of salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (or more, to taste)
3 pints fresh blueberries
Mix it all together until well blended. Pour into homemade pie crust.
1 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
Melt the butter. Add sugar and almonds. Spread over top of blueberry/cheese filling. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Pie may be a little runny when first taken out of the oven but will firm up as it cools. Chill in fridge for several hours before serving or can be served at room temperature once it firms up.
Easy Blueberry Beach Bars
1 tube crescent rolls (8 ounces) ½ cup sugar 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened ¾ teaspoon almond extract 1 pint fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained right before using 2 teaspoons of turbinado sugar, for topping
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9X11-inch pan with butter. Place half of crescent rolls in greased pan and press seams together to make a solid sheet. Mix ½ cup sugar, cream cheese and almond extract until creamy. Spread evenly over crescent dough. Lightly press blueberries into cream cheese mixture. Place remaining crescent dough over blueberries, pinching seams together to make top crust. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of turbinado sugar. Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden brown. Yield: 16-20 bars.
Nancy Sizemore, Baldwin EMC
4 cups blueberries ½ cup sugar 2 tablespoons cornstarch 2 tablespoons lemon juice ½ cup rolled oats ½ cup all-purpose flour ½ cup packed brown sugar 2 tablespoons pecans, chopped 6 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 1 ½ quart casserole dish with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix the blueberries, sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Spoon into the casserole dish. In the same bowl, mix the oats, flour, brown sugar and pecans. With a fork or pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles meal. Sprinkle over the berry mixture. Bake for 45 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbling. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
Peggy Key, North AL EC
2 cups self-rising flour 2 cups sugar 2 cups milk 1 stick butter or margarine, melted 1-1½ cup blueberries, fresh or frozen 1 10-ounce can crushed pineapple, do not drain
Mix together the flour, sugar and milk; set aside. Melt one stick of butter or margarine in a 9×13-inch pan while preheating oven to 375 degrees. Pour flour mixture over melted butter. Add blueberries and pineapple. Bake for 35-45 minutes.
Beth McLarty, Cullman EC
Blueberry Pound Cake
1 cup butter, not margarine 4 large eggs 2 cups sugar 3 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 cups thawed blueberries
Grease a 10-inch tube pan. Cream 1 cup of butter, adding 2 cups of sugar. Add eggs one at a time and vanilla. Combine 3 cups flour, baking powder and salt. Beat well. Take off mixer and fold berries into batter. Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes at 325 degrees.
Rita Miller, Pea River EC
Angel Blueberry Delight
1 can blueberry pie filling 1 container Cool Whip 1 8-ounce package cream cheese 1 cup confectioners’ sugar 1 pound cake
Cut the pound cake into squares and put in a large bowl. Whip the cream cheese in a bowl until soft and then mix in the cup of confectioners’ sugar. Mix together with Cool Whip until creamy. Pour the mixture over the top of the pound cake pieces. Pour the blueberry filling over the mixture.
Julia Fleming, Covington EC
A nutritional treat
• Low in fat and sodium
• 80 calories per cup
• A good source of fiber, vitamin C, and are high in manganese, which helps the body process cholesterol and nutrients such as carbohydrates and protein. Some studies have shown blueberries to be an effective source of antioxidants which can neutralize free radicals that can lead to cancer and other age-related diseases.
Source: U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council
Generally, it’s recommended that you not wash fresh blueberries before freezing them. For more details on freezing your berries, visit the Alabama Cooperative Extension System page: