Quonquont Farm in Whately to host second annual blueberry festival

By TINKY WEISBLAT, For the Recorder, July 10, 2019

The local blueberry season is upon us. Fat, high-bush blueberries have appeared at farms in the Pioneer Valley, luring buyers with the promise of pies, muffins and extra-delicious cereal.

At Quonquont Farm in Whately, the blueberries have their own festival. On Sunday, July 21, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Quonquont Farm will honor these blue gems for the second year with a variety of activities including a bake-off.

Leslie Harris, farm manager, recently explained what inspired the festival.

“We came up with the idea because we wanted to invite more people to enjoy our farm through more seasons. Apple season is very popular. Peaches speak for themselves,” she observed.

“People don’t always know that we have pick-your-own blueberries, and this is when we launch our pick-your-own flowers as well.”

Harris herself has long been a blueberry fan.

“What I love about blueberries is that they’re very versatile. I eat a fruit smoothie every morning. I love it when I have fresh fruit to use every morning,” she enthused.

“You can use them in healthy food like that or you can use them in more decadent goods. … They taste great and they’re good for you.”

“They’re also fun to take care of from the perspective of a farmer. We work with them all year round,” she added. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s great to see the bushes get heavy and people come fill their containers.”

The special blueberry day at Quonquont will include picking opportunities, local food vendors, and tastings of beverages from local breweries.

Pollinator expert Fred Morrison will be on hand to talk about the relationship between pollinators like bumblebees and blueberries and will offer advice on attracting pollinators to the home garden.

The festival will also feature Quonquont’s second annual Blueberry Bake-Off. The bake-off will be divided into three categories: home baker (adult), home baker (child), and professional baker. The children’s category is new this year.

Visitors to the farm will be able to purchase a set of marbles with which to “vote” for their favorite culinary creations. The money generated by selling the marbles will be donated to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

In addition to the people’s choice awards generated by the marble sales, the three categories will each receive a professional award from a food writer … namely, me.

I served as the celebrity judge at last year’s bake-off as well. Tasting 20-odd blueberry treats may sound like a wonderful assignment. It was. It was also extremely filling — and it was harder than I expected.

I managed to narrow the entries in each category down to a few favorites. Judging among

hose favorites was a challenge, however, particularly when (as flavors do) the flavors of the different dishes began to meld together a bit in my mouth and brain.

In the end, both the people’s choice award and my award went to the same home creation: a lemon-blueberry-zucchini cake by Sara Cahillane. It was stunning to look at and blended flavors and textures expertly.

I asked Cahillane if she was a neighbor of the farm.

“Yes, we live across the street from Quonquont and consider ourselves lucky,” she told me. “We know all our neighbors. It’s a great group.”

Leslie Harris noted that Quonquont Farm has scheduled the festival and bake-off a few weeks into blueberry season so people won’t have trouble finding berries for their entries.

“People should visit their local farm (preferably Quonquont), get fruit, and get cooking,” she urged.

Harris is looking forward to the entire day. She is particularly happy that the baking contest is honoring junior chefs this year, she told me.

“It’s great for children to think they can express themselves through baking,” she explained. “I was a baker as a child, and I want to give children that opportunity.”

I, too, am looking forward to the blueberry festival and to judging this year’s bake-off entries. I hope my taste buds and digestive system will be up to the task!

Sara’s Lemon Blueberry Zucchini Cake

2 cups shredded zucchini 3 eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature 1 cup vegetable oil 1 tablespoon vanilla extract 2 ¼ cups sugar 2 tablespoons lemon juice 3 cups flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking power ¼ teaspoon baking soda 1 pint fresh blueberries for the lemon icing: 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature confectioner’s sugar to taste, up to 3 ½ cups 1 pinch salt (omit this if you’re using salted butter) the juice and zest of 1 lemon 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8-inch round cake pans with butter and flour or use a non-stick, floured baking spray.

Place the grated zucchini in a clean tea towel. Lift up the edges of the towel and squeeze some of the extra moisture out, but don’t overdo this; you do not want the zucchini to be dry. Make sure you have 2 total cups of shredded zucchini after draining; if not, drain and dry a little more. Set the zucchini aside.

Use a hand mixer to beat together the eggs, the oil, the vanilla, and the sugar. Fold in the zucchini, followed by the lemon juice.

Slowly add in the flour, the salt, the baking powder, and the baking soda. Gently fold in most of the blueberries. (Reserve the remaining berries to place on top of the iced cake.) Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the pans for 30 minutes; then turn the cakes out onto wire racks to cool completely.

For the icing, beat together the butter, the sugar, and the salt. Add the lemon juice and the vanilla, and beat for 3 to 5 more minutes. Fold in the zest, and ice the cake. Place the remaining berries on top. Serves 8.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, www.Tinky-Cooks.com.

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