Apple Blueberry Crumble Bars with an oat crust and streusel topping
"Hi, this is Susan, your blueberry customer who raises sheep."
"Of course. How are you? How many lambs did you have this year?"
My local blueberry supplier recently acquired a small flock of his own, and he loves to talk sheep, but eventually I was able to steer him back to the matter at hand.
"I was calling to see how the blueberries are doing this year."
"You remember that bad freeze we had back in April?" Oh yes.
"Well, things aren't looking too good." Oh no.
"I can put you on The List." I could hear paper fluttering in the background. "I've got pages and pages of people here. You wouldn't believe how many customers have been calling about blueberries. Everybody calls when they open up their last bag from the freezer." Yep, that would be me.
"Um, I think I should already be on The List. I ordered five gallons when I picked up my five gallons last year."
"Oh, then you're probably on it."
"So how many blueberries do you think you'll get?"
"Maybe 50 or 60 gallons if I'm lucky." This was not sounding good.
"And how many do you normally get?"
"I should be getting 400. Last year I got 250, though the smaller harvest meant the berries were all large and juicy." I remember. "During the year I barter. When I buy something from someone or have them do work for me, they say, 'Just pay me in blueberries.' At this point I'm not even sure I'll have enough to pay them all." This was just getting better and better.
"If you find somebody else selling blueberries, I'd buy them." Great. Like who?
Then we went back to talking about sheep, and the conversation ended with him extending an invitation to come over one day soon for a lunch of homegrown lamb enchiladas made with chiles from last year's garden and corn tortillas from his own corn, served up with a salad of freshly picked lettuce.
"This isn't just one of those off-the-cuff invitations," he assured me. "This is real. I can't find anybody around here to eat this stuff with me." Okay, so maybe all was not lost—just my year's supply of berries.
The first summer I spent in Missouri, I planted a giant garden that provided me with, among other things, an enormous number of cucumbers, and I was determined that not a single one should go to waste. (This was before I kept ravenous, veggie loving chickens, which allows me to be a lot lazier and not feel guilty about it.)
I remember asking a friend if she thought I should go ahead and put up more than the 36 jars of dill pickles I already had stashed in a cupboard in my studio/office.
"You might as well. You may not get any cucumbers next year."
"Really? Why?" Was there some big fatal cucumber blight predicted that I didn't know about? "What's going to happen next year?"
"I have no idea. Anything could happen. You never know what could go wrong."
To a newish gardener who was still glowing from recent success and hadn't yet had many natural disasters befall her bounty, total crop failure seemed impossible, not to mention totally unfair.
Twelve Missouri farm years later, I understand completely.
Blueberries are in season in many places right now. If you find someone selling them, buy them. Just be sure to buy enough for next year, too.
One of the nicest things about blueberries is that they freeze beautifully, so you can easily enjoy them, and these bars, all year long. You don't even have to spread them out in a single layer on baking sheets like you do for raspberries or blackberries. To freeze blueberries, just fill up a zipper freezer bag or plastic container and toss them into the freezer.
An outing to a pick-your-own farm is a wonderful way to spend the day with kids and take home some delicious bounty. PickYourOwn.org is a great resource for finding pick-your-own farms in your area and even includes listings in other countries.
Farmgirl Susan's Apple Blueberry Crumble Bars
Makes on 9"x13" pan — 12 to 16 large bars
**Click here to print this recipe**
Some of you will recognize these as a variation of the Blueberry Bonanza Breakfast Bars I created last summer, when I did get my five gallons of fresh blueberries. In September I made a peachy blueberry version, and a friend I shared some with has been raving and hinting about them ever since.
A few months ago I wangled her into leaving the craziness on her farm to come spend the day giving wormer shots to the 91 sheep on mine, bribing her with the promise of large quantities of kitchen garden bounty and homemade baked goods. I even sent her home with frozen pizza. (I was the one who ended up with the best present of all that day, though, as this was the friend who brought Whitey the fertilized eggs.)
"Did you make any of those blueberry peach things?" she asked when she called to say she was on her way.
"I couldn't. I didn't have any peaches. But I made you some with apples and blueberries instead."
"That sounds. . . interesting." I took this to be nice talk for Yuck.
When she arrived I offered her one of the experimental apple blueberry bars as an energy boost before we got to work, and after two thoughtfully chewed bites she turned to me and said, "I do believe these taste better than the ones with peaches."
Of course the best thing about these bars is that adding the apples makes my now precious blueberries go a lot further.
Don't let the three separate layers in this recipe scare you away; they come together quickly and you only need to dirty up two mixing bowls. With the oatmeal crust and streusel topping, these bars remind me of an eat-with-your-hands cross between apple blueberry pie and apple blueberry crisp.
They can be enjoyed any time of day: put one in a lunchbox, pack some on a picnic, or munch on one in the car on your way to pick up the kids at school. You can cut them into squares, wrap them up individually, and freeze them for an instant snack.
For a comfort food dessert of the highest order, cut into the pan while they're still warm and gooey and serve them up in bowls alongside scoops of vanilla ice cream and topped with a handful of fresh blueberries.
My blueberries are large and not super sweet. If yours are the smaller and sweeter wild variety, you may want to use a little less sugar in the middle layer. Choose your favorite kind of apple; a combination of tart and sweet is very nice.
Feel free to substitute whole wheat flour for some or all of the white flour in the crust and/or the streusel topping. To give them another healthy boost, you could mix some chopped walnuts or almonds or pecans into the topping.
As always, I urge you to seek out local and organic ingredients; they really do make a difference. Even organic sugars are becoming mainstream.
2 cups organic old-fashioned oats (not quick oats)
1 cup organic all-purpose flour
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 Tablespoons (1½ sticks/6 ounces) organic butter, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup organic all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick/4 oz) organic butter or natural vegetable oil sticks such as Earth Balance
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
3 generous cups unpeeled chopped apples (about 5 small/19 oz)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (1/2 teaspoon if pre-ground)
For the Bottom Layer:
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 9" x 13" pan. (I love my Chicago Metallic commercial bake and roast pans and these heavy duty USA Pans are really nice too.)
In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the melted butter and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Press this mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan with your fingers. I also use the bottom of a stainless steel measuring cup to help make the crust flat and even.
For the top layer:
Place the flour, brown sugar, and butter in a small bowl and use a fork, pastry blender, or your fingers to combine until the mixture resembles large crumbs (some pea-sized clumps are okay). Set aside.
For the middle layer:
Place the blueberries and apples in the bowl you mixed the bottom layer in. Add the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg and toss until well combined.
Sprinkle the top layer evenly over the fruit mixture. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until the top is golden and looks "dry," but the edges aren't too brown, about 25 to 35 minutes.
Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, with ice cream if desired. Store leftover bars in a cool place or refrigerate. They may also be individually wrapped in plastic and frozen.