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Go berry wild

'Low-bush' berries pack a flavourful, nutritious punch

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Study after study has demonstrated that blueberries, especially wild blueberries, are delivering a very healthy dose of antioxidants that simply cannot be ignored.


Study after study has demonstrated that blueberries, especially wild blueberries, are delivering a very healthy dose of antioxidants that simply cannot be ignored.

For Americans, it's apples. Wrapped in pastry, they take on symbolic associations of goodness, wholesomeness and health, becoming, well, as "American as apple pie." Here in Canada, we have blueberries.

In a 2010 editorial for the Globe and Mail, well-known environmentalist David Suzuki made a good case for why the wild blueberry should be declared Canada's national plant.

He cited the seasonal social ritual of picking the berries, with families from Newfoundland to the Yukon walking with tin pails, on the lookout for good patches in low-lying bushes.

He pointed to the wild blueberry's ties to the land and to history. First Nations peoples have eaten blueberries for centuries, boiled up for tea, pounded into dried meat, or smoked so their goodness can be preserved for winter.

There's certainly a convincing health argument for the all-Canadian blueberry. It's a nutritional powerhouse, bursting with antioxidants, fibre, vitamins C and K, potassium, calcium and manganese. Grizzly bears, as big as they are, are happy to subsist on blueberries during the peak of the berry season.

And then there's taste, of course, a complex collision of sweet and tart. Wild blueberries are perfect eaten right out of the hand, but they also play well with others, pairing up with lemons or nectarines or apples in pies, cobblers and crisps. Favourite muffin or pancake recipes get even better with a few scoops of blueberries.

Blueberries have started to move in savoury directions as well. Cooks often use the berries to complement pork, poultry, fish and game, or toss them into salads or cheese dishes.

There is also a recent trend to seek out wild blueberries (sometimes called low-bush blueberries) in preference to cultivated (or high-bush) blueberries. North American culture tends to assume that bigger is better, but it's not so with berries, where small is good. Wild blueberries are smaller and purplier than their tamer cultivated cousins, and they have a deeper, more intense flavour. Nice and compact, they hold their shape well during cooking and don't "explode" during baking.

Because some of the blueberry's nutrients are concentrated in the skin, wild blueberries are also gram for gram more nutritious than cultivated ones. A cup of these small but mighty berries has more skin than a cup of marble-sized berries, and thus more nutrients.

Canada is the world's largest producer of wild blueberries, which come primarily from northeastern Canada. The export market is developing -- the blueberry's reputation as a superfood has led to a recent blue wave in South Korea, for instance, but some of the bounty stays here in Canada.

In the coming weeks, wild blueberries will be coming into their own near Winnipeg, and these little beauties will be sold fresh at local farmers' markets, fruit stands and specialty stores.

Fresh is always best, but frozen wild blueberries are now sold all year round at most supermarket chains, extending their availability beyond that poignantly brief late-summer season. While a lot of frozen fruit doesn't really work (frozen strawberries -- ugh), wild blueberries hold up well. They do just fine in baking, in sauces and compotes, or stirred into yogurt. Frozen blueberries are ideal for smoothies, because they give the drinks a frosty texture.

Wild blueberry juice, in pure form, is another way of going wild all year round. Without the sweetening additions of other juices, and without added sugars, pure blueberry juice has a tart taste and jewel-like purple colour. Pure wild blueberry juice can be found in Winnipeg at some specialty grocery stores.

Wild blueberries are delicious and nutritious, historical and hip, and very, very Canadian. Here are a few ways to enjoy them.


Wild blueberry compote with lemon posset

A posset is a British pudding, beautiful in its simplicity. Three ingredients, a few minutes on the stove, and that's that. In this recipe, the creamy lemon posset pairs up with an equally easy blueberry compote.


Blueberry compote:

500 g (about 3 1/2 cups) wild blueberries

250 ml (1 cup) granulated sugar

1/2 vanilla bean


Lemon posset:

1 L (4 1/2 cups) whipping cream

310 ml (1 1/4 cups) granulated sugar

140 ml (1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp) fresh lemon juice (from about 2 1/2 lemons)


To make wild blueberry compote, place blueberries, sugar and vanilla bean in a heavy pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a container, cool slightly, then cover and cool in the fridge overnight. Scrape the vanilla bean, mixing the pulp back into the compote and discarding the rest of the bean.

To make lemon posset, place the cream and sugar in a large, heavy stainless-steel pot. Over medium heat and stirring steadily, bring to a simmer, and then cook, stirring and simmering, for 3 minutes exactly. Remove from the heat, add lemon juice and whisk to combine. Portion evenly into 8 serving bowls. Let sit in the fridge overnight.

To serve, top a bowl of posset with a generous spoon of compote.

-- Adapted from a recipe from the Wild Blueberry Association of North America


Tester's notes: This recipe is absolutely going into my family's keeper file. The creamy, rich posset does need time to set, preferably overnight but for at least five hours. Using a vanilla bean for the compote will give you great taste, but if you don't have one on-hand, you can add 5 ml (1 tsp) pure vanilla extract after you remove the berries from the heat. The original recipe, from Toronto's Richmond Station restaurant, also calls for a chamomile granita and meringue chips, but that seemed a little precious. I really liked the elemental contrast between the posset and the compote, though I might serve the dessert with some shortbread or crisp almond cookies.


Wild blueberry and maple vinaigrette

This quick vinaigrette can be used as a salad dressing, especially for dark greens that have a bit of a bite, or as a marinade for salmon.


1 clove of garlic, crushed

2 ml (1/2 tsp) Dijon mustard

1 ml (1/4 tsp) fresh ground black pepper

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

75 ml (1/3 cup) genuine maple syrup

75 ml (1/3 cup) balsamiwc vinegar

125 ml (1/2 cup) pure wild blueberry juice

250 ml (1 cup) vegetable oil


In a small mixing bowl, place garlic, mustard, salt and pepper. Add syrup, balsamic vinegar, blueberry juice and oil. Whisk briskly until emulsified. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, and for best results, make the day before.

-- Adapted from a recipe from Van Dyk Blueberries


Tester's notes: With the all-Canadian combo of blueberry juice and maple syrup, this is a very Canuck vinaigrette. You need to use pure wild blueberry juice here -- no sugars or other juices added -- or the final result will be too sweet.


Wild blueberry smoothie

An ideal breakfast-in-a-glass, this blueberry smoothie recipe is quick and healthy.


560 g (4 cups) frozen wild blueberries, divided

250 ml (1 cup) apple sauce

250 ml (1 cup) plain low-fat yogurt

pinch cinnamon

5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla

60 ml (4 tbsp) brown sugar

125 ml (1/2 cup) vanilla yogurt, to garnish


In a blender, puree most of the blueberries (save a few spoonfuls for garnish), apple sauce, plain yogurt, cinnamon, vanilla and sugar until smooth. If mixture is too thick, thin with a little milk. Pour into 4 glasses and top with vanilla yogurt and reserved berries.

-- Adapted from a recipe from the Wild Blueberry Association of North America

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 31, 2013 C1


Updated on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 6:56 AM CDT: Adds photo

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