I received Janie Hibler's book, The Berry Bible, in the mail recently. I was excited to check out a book that focused on preserving, putting up, baking and cooking with the dozens and dozens of different kinds of berries in the markets these days. Plus, Hibler's work is rock-solid. She's a contributing writer for Gourmet, Food and Wine and Bon Appetit and grew up in my neck of the woods (Arcata, CA) which immediately gives her a little clout in my book.
So I sat down with a glass of iced tea and started reading. To be fair, The Berry Bible isn't really a book that you'd sit down with a glass of iced tea and read from front to back. It's more of a reference with an A-Z Berry Enclyopedia that profiles berries and berrylike fruits--many of which I guarantee you've never heard of (mountain ash berry, anyone?). Then the book moves on to discuss Berry Basics, a section devoted to information such as freezing berries and making your own purees. Hibler raises the important point that so many berries are available year round now, but they're often not the best quality. She advises buying up good berries when they're in season or from the farmer's market and freezing them to preserve them throughout the year. The easiest way? Rinse, pour onto a baking sheet lined with a paper towel, pat dry, freeze on the sheet and then bag up in plastic bags or airtight containers. And then, of course, there are the 175 recipes spanning everything from spicy blackberry brandy to almond gooseberry cream pie. Many of the recipes are adapted from some of Hibler's favorites that she's gathered from friends, bakeries, and cookbooks spanning the country.
Hibler's obsession with berries began early. In the Introduction, she details growing up in Northern California and picking berries along the trails there. I can relate. I have vivid memories of wild berries growing in schoolyards, along major highways, and by the beach. I didn't realize how lucky we were. As a young adult, Hibler moved to Portland, OR where her love for berries turned more towards obsession. She made a point to learn all about the berries of the Pacific Northwest. She ran a cooking school and when visiting chefs would come to teach, she'd most look forward to some down time so she could drive them out to the berry fields. Her passion for cooking and baking with berries shines through each page, and the little tidbits of berry history and quotes about berries are usually endearing (some of the literary berry quotes start to feel a bit onerous at times).
For me, the highlight of the book is the Bread chapter. This is obviously because I'm much more of a baker than a cook. And I'm an occasional canner at best. But even for non-bakers, the Bread chapter is exciting in its variety and approach to baking with berries. From Dutch Pancakes with Cranberry Butter and Mrs. Roger's Bucket Dumpling to Ginger Scones with Lemon Blueberry Filling, Hibler includes old fashioned and contemporary recipes alike. I decided to try the Raspberry Buttermilk Biscuits. They're quick to put together and are a great way to use up leftover buttermilk.
I found them to be incredibly light and not too sweet--they're quite low on sugar; much of the sweetness comes from the berries themselves. They're a simple muffin without any complex spice profiles or long list of ingredients, but they're beautifully studded with warm oozing berries and bits of oats. A pretty and healthy celebration of the season.
Berry Buttermilk Muffins
I adapted Jane's recipe by using 1/2 whole wheat flour and sprinkling oats on top.
Makes: 12 3-inch muffins or 9 jumbo muffins
Ground cinnamon for sprinkling
1/2 cups sugar, plus sugar for sprinkling
oats for sprinkling
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. coarse salt
6 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 pint (1 cup) frozen raspberries, blueberries, and/or blackberries
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Grease a muffin tin.
2. Sift together 1 3/4 cups of the flour, the sugar, salt, and baking powder. Cut in the butter with 2 knives or a pastry blender.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and buttermilk and pour into the dry ingredients. Stir together until just combined. It will be lumpy.
4. Toss the berries in the remaining 1/4 cup flour and fold very gently into the batter. Fill the muffin cup to the top and sprinkle generously with sugar, cinnamon, and oats.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Serve warm.