Market Mondays – Blueberries

Here in the city, we’re lucky enough to have any number of markets where both wild and tame blueberries are available for a reasonable price. But for me, blueberries have the ability to make me really cranky. As a kid we’d trek off into the woods in the suburb of Halifax where I grew up, and fill huge buckets and jugs with the things to make pies and muffins and the famous Acadian blueberry grunt. Covered in mosquito bites, backs aching from bending over the low bushes and that awful feeling in the pit of the stomach caused by worrying that, at any moment, you’d come face to face with a hungry bear, picking was never really considered fun. We’d try anything we could to get out of going blueberry picking, but ultimately, at the first slice of Mom’s pie, it was all worth it.

Blueberries are native to North America and related to cranberries and bilberries. While there are a number of varieties, most are separated into either low bush or high bush types, the first being wild berries, mostly picked by hand, while high bush berries are larger, able to be harvested by machine and in a taste comparison are considered more bland than their wild cousins.

In Canada, blueberry growing regions include British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. Nova Scotia is the biggest producer of wild blueberries in North America and the Atlantic provinces together produce more than half of the annual output of North America. Terroirists will note that blueberries, like grapes, vary in flavour based on where they are grown, with the distinct soil and growing conditions of the Atlantic provinces making for a unique flavour that is highly prized.

While there is still much research to do with regards to anti-oxidants and their health benefits, blueberries are a nutritional powerhouse. They are very high in Vitamin C, manganese and fibre. Blueberries are full of antioxidant phytonutrients called anthocyanidins, which are thought to improve the vascular system, enhance the effects of vitamin C, improve capillary integrity, and improve body tissues.

When purchasing blueberries, look for berries that are bright and round, and that move freely when the container is shaken (mushy or rotten berries will stick together). Blueberries can be stored in the fridge in a covered container. Wash only before eating as berries will retain moisture and get mushy. Blueberries freeze well (spread on a baking sheet in the freezer to ensure they don’t freeze in a big clump) and making the effort to get local berries and freeze them is definitely a more rewarding experience than buying blueberries from China in the middle of January because you’re desperate for blueberry pancakes.

CAVA Wild Blueberry Clafouti with Lemon Ice Cream
from Chris MacDonald, Executive Chef, CAVA

Serves 4 to 6

1 cup frozen wild blueberries (thawed and patted dry)
250g (8oz) quark
1 cup icing sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp whipping cream
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon peel
2 egg yolks
3 egg whites
Icing sugar
Lemon ice cream

Preparation: Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C)

Butter and sugar 4 to 6 individual ramekins. Line with a single layer of wild blueberries.

With a mixer or in a food processor or blender, combine quark, icing sugar, cornstarch, whipping cream, lemon juice, lemon peel and egg yolks.

Whip egg whites until light and gently fold into cheese mixture. Spread soufflé mixture over the berries.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until puffed, browned and set. Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately with a scoop of lemon ice cream.

Blueberry Grunt
This is an old Acadian dish that everyone in the Maritimes eats during blueberry season. Don’t try to fancy it up with spices or lemon – if you’ve got good wild blueberries, you’ll want that flavour to be the star. Also – it’s an ugly dish. Nevermind that. It tastes wonderful.

4 cups blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 – 1/2 cup milk

In a large saucepan, combine blueberries, 1/2 cup sugar and water. Cover and bring to a boil on medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer gently until there is plenty of juice.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and cut in butter with a pastry blender. Add just enough milk to make a soft biscuit dough. Drop by tablespoons on top of hot sauce. Cover immediately and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes without removing the lid. Serve with whipped cream, yogurt or ice cream.