Today I stepped outside to a seldom-visited corner of my backyard where, years ago, the previous owners planted blueberry bushes. They really should not keep growing year after year, but they do, in spite of the odd, too-shady spot they're in and the neighborhood deer feasting on the lower branches. Sure enough, the upper limbs are loaded with not-yet-ripe fruit. So I hurried down to Hillsborough's Eno River Farmers' Market in search of ready blues, thankful that the weekday markets are back in business.
There is something uplifting about blueberries: for breakfast on cereal, tossed in a salad, served on cheesecake, made into a sauce and poured over ice cream. But my favorite way goes back to grad school, when, after seeing a movie at the now-defunct Varsity Theater, we'd drink coffee and eat blueberry crumb cake at Breadmen's Restaurant. Back when it first opened in 1974, the Chapel Hill diner was one of the only local options for late-night food.
Co-owner Bill Piscitello says Breadmen's bakers adapted this recipe from The New York Times in the 1970s. They tweaked it to accommodate large quantities baked in a roasting pan, making a batch of streusel to ensure the top was covered, instead of relying on the traditional crumb topping used in the main recipe below (see "Breadmen's-Style Streusel" recipe for the Breadmen's version).
I make the blueberry crumb cake in that diner spirit, and it's a treat for either late-night munchies or weekend breakfast. As with most quick breads, if I plan to serve it in the morning, I mix and store separately the wet and dry ingredients the night before. The next day, I give them a quick spin in the food processer while the oven preheats and the coffee brews. In many cake recipes, blueberries sink near the bottom of the pan, creating a delicious fruit-crusted coffee cake. If you want them distributed muffin-style throughout, dust them with a tablespoon or so of flour before adding to the batter, which magically suspends them. I like to mix in a few reddish, underripe berries for a little tang.