a long overdue story, and a recipe for blueberry cobbler

I want to tell you a story. It’s an evolving story, so I can’t tell you how it’s going to turn out. I’m hopeful that it will turn out just fine, but I am a realist, so I’m not getting my hopes up. I won’t share everything with you. But I do feel that I need to share at least some of this story.

For now, I’m just going to tell you the beginning.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

It was 1995, and I was home for the summer, having just finished one year of graduate school in Georgia. I was getting a Masters degree in psychology, and I had recently decided that I was not on the right track. My new plan was to live with my parents for a short time while I took the undergraduate science classes necessary to take – and hopefully pass – the medical school admissions test (the MCAT). It was going to be some time away still, but I thought I might be interested in psychiatry, or maybe even neurology.

When I moved home, I had a room next door to my brother. He was 18 or 19 at the time, and he couldn’t seem to get his act together academically. Despite being a very smart kid, once he was in high school, his grades began dropping. He could have graduated from high school if he’d made up one class in the summer following his senior year. He chose not to.

Those first few weeks home were difficult for me. I was commuting about 45 minutes each way to attend my classes. I was looking for – and eventually found – a job to pay for those classes. In between, I made time to study for physics and chemistry and biology. At night, I went to sleep with formulas spinning through my brain.

And every night, for what seemed like a very long time, I would awaken to hear my brother next door in his room. He was awake and talking to himself, laughing, and occasionally arguing. He never seemed to sleep. Which meant that I got very little sleep.

I was fed up with him, with not sleeping, with all the pressure I was under in my coursework. Mostly, I just wanted to sleep at night. I assumed that he was just acting like a jerk and purposefully trying to keep me up. One night, I went next door to my brother’s room and confronted him. I yelled at him and he yelled at me. It was the worst argument we’d ever had, and I don’t remember much of it. What I remember is that he stormed out of the house and left. The next day, he still had not come home.

This is what we were told by the medical personnel when we ultimately got the phone call: He was alive but in the hospital. He was in a single-vehicle accident on a rural road in a neighboring county. He was acting bizarrely and it was felt that he was high on hallucinogenic drugs of some sort, maybe LSD or PCP. He was flown in a helicopter or taken by ambulance [the details are fuzzy this many years later] to the major hospital in the region. A drug screen was done and was negative. He was not on drugs. He was in full-blown psychosis.

That was his first hospitalization for what became a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

People don’t talk much about schizophrenia. There’s a stigma attached to having a mental illness or loving someone with a mental illness. My family and I have been dealing with my brother’s schizophrenia for over 16 years, and WE never talk about it in public. I’ve never really discussed it here, even though I talk about other personal things that affect me profoundly. Only a few close friends know about my brother’s diagnosis. Our extended family know some, but not all, of what we’ve been through.

I don’t want sympathy. I just need to tell this story. Mental illness affects so many people – both those affected and the family members and loved ones of those with the illness. We should be helping each other more, supporting each other. We don’t talk enough about it.

I’m ready to change that.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

A few weeks ago, on Memorial Day weekend, we drove out to my parents’ home to have a cookout. My parents still live about 45 minutes away, in the very rural one-stoplight town I grew up in. My mom and dad live in an old farmhouse that they remodeled many years ago, after I moved out for good. My grandmother has lived with them since she was diagnosed with lymphoma about 15 months ago, and my brother – younger than me by 4 years – lives in a little house just behind theirs and connected by a deck my dad built.

I brought a homemade blueberry cobbler, made with the fresh blueberries we picked earlier that weekend. My mom requested the cobbler. She never asks for anything, so I had no intention of telling her no.

My mom has been a caregiver for the last 16 years, when my brother was diagnosed.  She became a caregiver for a second time when my grandmother was on chemotherapy and radiation for lymphoma. In January, she became a caregiver for my father, too.  She has the hardest job of anyone I know. It’s a physical, mental, and emotionally draining job. She never gets a day off. And she never asks for anything. Except blueberry cobbler.

So I delivered.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8.

Blueberry Cobbler

Ingredients:

Filling
1 cup packed light brown sugar
5 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
6 cups fresh blueberries (or 30 ounces frozen blueberries, not thawed)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon

Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

Place oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.

Make filling: Combine the filling ingredients - light brown sugar, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg, blueberries, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a bowl and stir well to combine. Place fruit filling in a 9-inch deep dish pie plate or a baking dish. Place the baking dish on the foil-lined baking sheet and bake until the fruit begins to release liquid (20-30 minutes if using fresh blueberries; 40-50 minutes if using frozen).

Make topping: While blueberry filling is baking, whisk the flour, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. In a second bowl, whisk the buttermilk, melted butter, and vanilla together. In a third, small bowl, combine the cinnamon and 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar together and set aside.

When the blueberry filling has begun to release liquid, stir the buttermilk mixture gently into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula, until the dough is just combined and there are no dry pockets remaining.

Remove the blueberry filling from the oven and stir. Pinch topping dough into 8 equal pieces and scatter evenly on top of the hot filling. Sprinkle dough with the cinnamon sugar. Return cobbler to oven and bake until the filling is bubbling and the topping is brown on top and cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let the cobbler cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes prior to serving.

Cobbler adapted from the recipe for Fruit Cobbler in The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

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37 Responses to “celebrations and strawberry dream cake”

  1. Deborah Mele — June 28, 2011 @ 3:16 pm

    How pretty! I don’t like fussy desserts but this looks like something my family would love. Will have to wait for strawberry season next year to try it though. The cake means so much more with such feelings behind it. THANKS for sharing!

  2. Liz — June 28, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

    Stunning cake…and I can only imagine how delicious!

  3. Sarah michel — June 28, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

    This is very similar to the strawberry cake I make, except I chop the strawberries and put them in the batter and use a strawberry meringue buttercream. Fresh strawberries really do make cake so delish! Since you can use frozen strawberries, you can really make it year round. I am going to give your recipe a try next week!

  4. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — June 28, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

    Congrats MJ – 14 years is quite the milestone. And that cake? Well worthy of a celebration. Or, any day!!!! Hugs XOX

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 28th, 2011 @ 10:13 pm

      Aw, thanks so much, Mardi. Miss you!

  5. Kimmy @ Lighter and Local — June 28, 2011 @ 3:55 pm

    I’ve been looking for the perfect way to use up the last of the strawberries I picked this week. I think I just found it.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 28th, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

      Do it. You won’t regret it.

  6. Gail — June 28, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

    Who could even read the recipe? I’m still wiping the tears away from the fact that your dad made the stained glass windows in the church that was your grandfather’s congregation. Then you hit me with your mother & your aunt’s birthday.

    Note to self: Always scroll down and read the recipes first.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 28th, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

      It really was an amazing wedding filled with tradition and meaning. Miss you, by the way.

  7. Kate @ Savour Fare — June 28, 2011 @ 4:53 pm

    Lovely! We love strawberry cakes in our house too. And by we, I mean me. But I bake them! Happy anniversary!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 28th, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

      Ha ha! Thanks, Kate. We’re all fans here. 🙂

  8. Aggie — June 28, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

    Happy Anniversary!!! I absolutely love the pink hue in the frosting and knowing its the “real” deal…what a beautiful cake, and a beautiful post!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 28th, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

      Thanks so much, Aggie!

  9. Its true in so many ways, you have ‘Come a long way, baby.’ Huge congratulations on your anniversary, Happy Birthday to your Mom and Aunt and good for you for finding a way to keep the tradition of the cake alive but in a manner that reflects your continued journey towards making it fresh and fabulous!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 28th, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

      Thanks, Barb. Yes, it’s been a continuous journey and I’ve had so much fun along the way!

  10. I’ll definitely be having dreams about this one!

  11. SMITH BITES — June 28, 2011 @ 10:51 pm

    congrats to you and the Mr. MJ – you’ve got one year on me and The Professor but they have been the best years of my entire life . . . and that cake looks divine!!

  12. Beautiful cake! I love strawberries but not the artificial flavored cakes, your recipe sounds dreamy. Happy anniversary.

  13. DessertForTwo — June 29, 2011 @ 12:41 am

    Aww, happy anniversary! 🙂

  14. Jane — June 29, 2011 @ 1:45 am

    Congrats! 70 years ago today my grandparents walked down the isle. And last Thursday I celebrated my birthday with a strawberry/chocolate cake with strawberry, chocolate cream cheese, and caramel icings! Big cake, big flavor!

  15. Alison @ Ingredients, Inc. — June 29, 2011 @ 8:17 am

    This looks fantastic!

  16. Milena — June 29, 2011 @ 10:45 am

    What gorgeous strawberries!!! Where I live is way too hot and humid to provide strawberries like this… nevertheless the ones we have here are quite tasty! This cake is definitely in my “to bake” list, it looks so beautiful…

  17. Paula — June 29, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

    Every wedding is a blessed event but to have yours take place in the church who’s windows your own father made, to have your grandfather officiate your ceremony and to have had it on your mother and aunt’s birthdays just makes it a occasion that was not only blessed by God but also, so deeply personal by some of the people who mean the most to you. Happy Anniversary and may you be blessed with many, many more happy years together and be able to share them with those you love.

    Your cake…beautiful!

  18. Liren — June 29, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

    Happy Anniversary! What a blessing to have been surrounded by so much love and guidance – I can’t think of anything more meaningful.

    This cake is just gorgeous – I know I have had my share of hideous cakes in my lifetime – this, MJ, is absolutely worthy of celebration.

  19. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — June 30, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

    My hubby would love this! He had to have strawberry cake for our wedding, and he constantly requests it… I’m bookmarking this recipe! 🙂

  20. Rachel @ Not Rachael Ray — June 30, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

    Looks so good! Perfect for summer. Happy Anniversary!

  21. Baker Street — July 1, 2011 @ 1:10 am

    Happiest anniversary M.J! and happy happy birthday to your mom and her sister.

    Your cake is just perfect! Lovely, just lovely.

  22. Jennifer (Savor) — July 2, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

    Happy Anniversary! Our is 10 years this year.

  23. My mouth is totally watering right now! Will be making this at some point for sure.

  24. Tracey — July 14, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

    Happy Anniversary, what a gorgeous cake!

  25. Rochelle — July 28, 2011 @ 4:52 am

    Would someone please actually make the recipe instead of just gushing over how good it looks!

  26. Pingback: It’s My Birthday, Let’s Talk Cake! | Not Rachael Ray

  27. Holly — August 15, 2011 @ 9:17 am

    I tried making this cake and didn’t think it was that successful. In the recipe it doesn’t say how much vanilla to add. Tasted like a strawberry shortcake and the frosting was too much like strawberry flavored cream cheese. I add more strawberries and sugar to frosting.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 15th, 2011 @ 9:39 am

      Holly – I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you. Thanks for pointing out the error in the vanilla measurements. I’ve just corrected it – should be 2 teaspoons.

  28. sonya — April 17, 2014 @ 11:16 pm

    I love this cake. I spilled some of the strawberry part the first time and it didn’t turn out quite right, but I’m so glad I gave it a go again. this is a truly special cake. it also makes fabulous cupcakes which are easy to top with a slice of fresh strawberry each. which reminds me, I love cooks country magazine so much too! down home cooking, but made as tasty and flavorful as you can imagine, and also fool-proof….what’s not to love?

  29. Megan — January 12, 2015 @ 5:55 pm

    If I do not have a stand mixer, do you have any recommendations for the instructions for mixing?

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — January 12th, 2015 @ 7:51 pm

      Megan,

      I’ve only ever made it in a stand mixer, but I’m sure you could use a regular hand mixer, too. Or, if you put a lot of strength into the mixing, you could try it using your muscle power!

      Good luck!

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