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Wild Blueberry Tart

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Anne Maxfield
Anne Maxfield

Local blueberries are in full harvest mode. On my way back from a week spent on North Haven, a quiet and radiant island in Penobscot Bay, I stopped along Route 1 in Maine to buy wild blueberries, the state's signature fruit. The sign said "Clean Wild Maine Blueberries," and the owner told me that the berries had actually been harvested mechanically, and are cultivated, despite the "wild" moniker. Wild blueberrie are much smaller than their pumped-up cousins from New Jersey, which are what we normally see in supermarkets, almost all year round these days. According to Wikipedia, "wild" has been adopted as a marketing term for harvests of managed native stands of lowbush blueberries. "The bushes are not planted or genetically manipulated, but they are pruned or burned over every two years, and pests are managed," the entry tells us.

Cleaning the little blue devils can be an exercise in frustration -- you can't exactly get rid of all the teeny, tiny stems and spent berries clinging to them; best to abandon any expectations of getting them all. But each mini-blue pacts an intense blueberry flavor that is well worth the effort.

The island of North Haven off the coast of Rockland, Maine, may not remain so quiet for long. Food & Wine magazine was there earlier this year to interview the island's one chef, Amanda Hallowell. Hallowell works at one of the island's two restaurants, Nebo Lodge. Mark Bittman ate there not too long ago.

This delicious and rich recipe for North Haven "Wild" Blueberry Tart was written by someone who lived on the island and who adapted the recipe from the cookbook author, Nancy Harmon Jenkins.

The thick crust is more like a cookie than a pie crust -- a buttery, crunchy oatmeal cookie.

Here's how to make it:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Salt
Dash of cinnamon
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon rolled oats
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds--toasted or not, skins on or blanched
3 1/2 cups fresh wild blueberries (see note)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar for dusting on cooled tart
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)

1. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand-mixer, cream the butter and 1/3 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, a pinch of salt and the cinnamon. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour, rolled oats and almonds. Shape into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Press the chilled dough into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Wrap in plastic and freeze for 30 minutes. It will be a thick dough and not spread evenly in the tart pan--that's OK.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Transfer the tart pan directly from the freezer to the oven and bake until the crust is golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, and using paper towels to protect your hands, gently press the hot crust, which will have risen a bit, back into the pan. Cool slightly on a wire rack before adding the berry filling.

3. Rinse the blueberries, shake them dry in a colander and transfer them to a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, the lemon zest and a pinch of salt. Stir it and the lemon juice into the berries, bruising the berries slightly with a fork. Transfer the berry mixture to the crust and distribute the berries evenly. Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

4. Cool completely on a rack. Sprinkle with the confectioners' sugar and, if you choose, serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Serves 6 to 8.

NOTE: Do not use frozen blueberries. Domestic blueberries may be substituted for wild. Enjoy!