Home Grown Chef: Blueberry Pickles

written by Thor Erickson | photos by Terry Manier


I COULD SAY MY earliest memory of blueberries was picking them on a sultry August day beside a cool stream at my grandparents’ farm, and that I put more in my mouth than in the bucket, and there almost weren’t enough for grandma’s pie that night. In fact, my earliest memories of blueberries were the TV commercials about the stains they caused on dentures.

It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I tasted a blueberry on its own, not as part of some sweet muffin or pie. A few of my co-workers at a restaurant were going to a U-Pick blueberry farm, and I jumped at the chance to join them. I meandered into the field away from the others. The first berry I saw, I tossed into my mouth. Firm yet juicy, tartness followed by sweetness, a perfect balance, all by itself—nothing like those from the muffins of my past.

I kept picking until my bucket was full and the back of my neck was sunburned. My mind was swimming—how could I not have experienced them in this way before? I also lamented that this fruit had been confined to the sweet life of desserts and breakfast, and not celebrated on their own merit.

I began to experiment, using them in all sorts of savory applications— some great, others not so—blueberry pasta. I kept going back to simplicity with the blueberry by itself or dressed simply. My hands-down favorite is to wash them and place them in the fridge tossed with freshly grated lemon zest—no juice, just zest. Let the flavors get to know each other overnight (chefs call this macerating). The next morning, sprinkle a whisper of sea salt on them and eat. You will thank me for this.

I also preserve blueberries and all types of Oregon berries. In the dead of winter, there is nothing better than a bit of preserved summer sun in the form of berries. This blueberry pickle recipe pairs well with soft-ripened cheeses and smoked fish, and can usurp the pickled onion in a gin or vodka Gibson.

So when it comes to those stubborn blueberry stains, don’t worry about them. Extend your youth with these free-radical fighting berries.

Blueberry Pickles

Servings: 12 (makes 3 ½ cups)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: None. Refrigerate overnight.

1 cup distilled white vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 ¾ tablespoons kosher salt
1 ¼ pounds blueberries
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup water

Whisk vinegar, sugar, salt and water in a medium-size bowl until sugar and salt dissolve. Add blueberries and onion and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

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