This is the first in a new local recipe guest column by North Bend photographer, cook and food lover Kristin Tetuán. Look for recipes that feature local Snoqualmie Valley ingredients, many of them produced by local farmers.
There is a certain smell in late summer evenings in the Snoqualmie Valley that brings a wealth of childhood memories rushing back to me. After a hot day, when the divide between day and evening begins to blur and the air has cooled, the aroma of overripe sun-baked blackberries floats on the air, reminding me it is time to harvest.
When I was 13, on Fridays, my dad would come and pick me and my sister up for the weekend in his blue convertible Volkswagen beetle. We’d go the roller coaster way, we’d call it. Winding up and down Duthie Hill between Issaquah and Fall City, before there were traffic lights to slow us down. We’d ride with the top down, the redolence of berries thick on the wind.
As an even younger child, I remember my mother taking us to her old elementary school in Bellevue, where the playground was framed by blackberry bushes, where we would spend two hours collecting and we would walk away with two big quarts, a tradition I have continued with my own children.
This recipe is an homage to these memories, despite the fact that I used evergreen huckleberries instead. Any dark, heavily pigmented berries can be used as a substitute, like blackberries or marion berries. You can use any berry really, but the thickness of the resulting syrup will vary because, although all berries are high in pectin, they all vary slightly.
We will start with the syrup because while everything else is happening, it needs to be in the freezer setting up. Before you start, take out your two sticks of butter to get them softening.
Quick & Thick Evergreen Huckleberry Syrup
- 1 Scant C of huckleberries (or black berries)
- 1/2 C of sugar
- 1 TBSP lime juice
- With your berries in a measuring container, fill with enough water to just reach the same level as the berries. You don’t want any of the berries to be floating but you want them to be almost entirely submerge except for a few popping out of the waterline, like pictured.
- Add the sugar and lime juice to the cup. It will be heaping at first but the sugar will start to dissolve into the liquid as it’s poured. (You can also use lemon juice but I prefer the flavor complexity of lime.)
- Over medium heat, bring mixture to a good boil while stirring continuously and gently breaking up the berries with your spoon to release their juices. Do this for 6-8 minutes until the minutes until the mixture starts to thicken. You will start to see a foam forming when it is just about ready to be put to a simmer.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally and continuing to break up the berries with gentle taps.
- Scrape the sides of the pot a few times throughout the simmering process and reintroduce the scrapings back into the mixture to ensure you get every last drop of sugars and pectin.
- Remove from heat and transfer mixture into a heat safe/freeze safe container and place immediately in the freezer for about an hour. Keep refrigerated until you are ready to use.
Lemon Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 C whipped cream cheese
- 1 C confectioner’s sugar
- 1/2 C lemon flavored Greek yogurt
- 1/3 C butter, softened
- Scrapings from 1 vanilla bean*
- In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese and yogurt and beat on low until smooth. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, place softened butter and vanilla bean scrapings.
- Sift in confectioner’s sugar, making sure it is fine with no clumps. (This is integral in accomplishing a smooth tart filling.)
- Beat butter mixture on low until smooth and the vanilla bean is evenly distributed.
- Slowly add cream cheese mixture to butter mixture, folding together until smooth and well-mixed.
- Place in the freezer while you prepare the tarts.
*If you’ve never used vanilla beans before, you can get them in the bulk spice section at QFC in North Bend. With a small pairing knife, simply slice open lengthwise and use the back of the blade to scrape the length of the bean. Use a little bit of pressure but not too much otherwise you will get the fibers of the bean. It will look and feel like a dark, brown paste accumulated on your knife.
Vanilla Bean Shortbread Tarts
- 1 C butter, softened2 C flour
- 2/3 C sugar
- Scrapings from 2 vanilla beans
- Preheat your oven to 325°.
- In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients.
- In a small bowl, combine butter and vanilla bean scrapings and fold until well-blended.
- Add butter mixture to larger bowl and fold until the dry ingredients are well-incorporated into the butter mixture.
- Knead with your hands until the dough no longer sticks to your hands. (If your dough is still sticky after kneading, try adding just a touch more flour.)
- Press dough into a well-greased tartlet pan, about a half an inch thick. (You can use muffin tins if you don’t have a tartlet pan.)
- Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges are very lightly golden.
Allow the tarts to cool a bit for before removing from the pan, about 20 minutes. (They will still be on the warm side.) Once they’ve cooled slightly, turn the pan upside down onto your cutting board and gently tap the bottoms to allow tarts to drop out. (I used individual tartlet pans from my grandmother’s kitchen and flipped each one over into my palm and gave them each a good couple of taps to remove the tarts.) Allow your removed tarts to completely cool before frosting them. This is a good time to take your toppings out of the freezer and place them in the fridge.
When your tarts are cool, place a dollop of your frosting on top and finish with about a 1/2 tsp of the berry syrup. For something a little fancier, you can use an icing bag with a tip of your choice for the frosting and gently place berry syrup around the perimeter of your tartlets.
These tarts are a decadent little treat that are perfect for tea parties or a coffee date with friends or just devouring in mass quantities in the privacy of your own home, like I did. You may choose to share them. However, you may not because they are so delicious!
[Kristin Tetuán is Creative Director at Tetuán Photography & Design. Portraiture is her first love in her art form but cooking/shooting food and of course eating it comes in at a very close second. She lives in North Bend with her husband, preschooler son and first grade daughter. For more information on her work, visit www.kristintetuan.com.]