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Cooking with blueberries

Valerie Mansour dishes up the culinary versatility of blueberries with delicious sweet and savoury recipes

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Photo: Dennis Evans

Recipes Featured In This Article

Fresh Blueberry Pie

What’s summer without a freshly baked blueberry pie? Serve with ice cream and enjoy!...

Wild Blueberry Buckle

This traditional buckle can be enjoyed for breakfast in a bowl with milk or cream, or for ...

Blueberry Risotto

This might sound like an unusual combination, but give it a try! The colour is exquisite a...

Blueberries attract a lot of attention: the wonder food, the perfect food, the number-one antioxidant fruit, a source of dietary fibre and high in vitamin C. They help build bones, fight artery hardening and enhance memory. While every claim may not be convincing, there’s no disputing that blueberries are healthy. And here on the East Coast, they are readily available.

Moncton, N.B. home chef Sue Calhoun starts her day with blueberries. She puts a half-cup of wild berries in her oatmeal, covers them with Greek yogourt and a handful of chia seeds. “I’ve done it for years,” she says. “It’s the best thing you can eat.” Calhoun enjoys them fresh but keeps a large stash in her freezer too.

One of her favourite recipes is a Blueberry Cheesecake that she has adapted to be gluten-free. “It’s a treat for kids, and their parents love it as it’s made with yogourt instead of sour cream and cream cheese,” she says. Somewhat more decadent is her Blueberry Cream-Cheese Coffeecake. Because blueberries have their own sweetness, she recommends reducing the sugar in blueberry recipes.

People often think first of dessert when considering blueberries—in pies or “straight up” with cream—but that’s not the limit. “You can do anything with them,” say Shawn Thorsen, former chef at Between the Bushes Restaurant in Centreville, N.S., “soups, sauces, marinades, juices, smoothies.”

Thorsen suggests venturing into savoury recipes, including a Chilled Blueberry Soup. “The distinct flavour never gets lost,” he says.

He is especially fond of making Blueberry Glazed Tenderloin, a tasty way of showcasing this popular berry. His Kale Quinoa Salad with Blueberry Vinaigrette features blueberries with two popular salad ingredients—kale and quinoa. The mix of colours and flavours make it a seasonal standout.

It’s best not to wash the berries until you need to use them. Thorsen recommends tossing berries in at the end of a warm salad to ensure they hold their shape. He was once more fond of wild berries, but changed his tune after working at Between the Bushes, part of Blueberry Acres, which grows more than 75 hectares of high-bush berries in three locations in the Annapolis Valley.

They grow more than 30 varieties including popular U-Pick varieties such as Blue Crop, Blue Ray, Bonus, Berkley, Duke, Jersey, and Spartan. Thorsen finds each type of berry has a unique flavour and size. “They’re so vibrant and electric, especially in puréed sauces in contrasting colours,” he says. As well as the restaurant and a U-Pick and commercial operation, the company has created a line of blueberry products including juices, chutneys and vinaigrettes.

For Chris Collins of Amherst, N.S., there’s no argument that wild, or low bush, berries are better. He produces Mountain Wild Blueberries at GE Collins and Sons Ltd., a family business for over 50 years, which now has over 400 hectares in Cumberland County and in New Brunswick. “Wild berries are sweeter and they’re healthier,” he says. “But it is a matter of opinion.”

Collins says berries stay fresh in the fridge for four to five days, but he likes to keep some frozen to use on cereal. A highlight of the family’s summer is his mother’s Blueberry Pie and Blueberry Buckle, two desserts that have become East Coast classics.

He explains that while the Atlantic Canadian climate is perfect for blueberries, weather is a huge factor—a rough, cold and windy winter can damage the plants, while a lot of snow protects them. “All we do is try to tame them a bit,” he says, “try to keep the weeds out of the field, fertilize them a bit; they spread but it takes a long time.” A field of blueberries is harvested every other year.

Blueberries ripen in late August into September. They’re the only fruit in Canada processed from both wild and cultivated varieties. Canada is the world’s second-largest producer and exporter of blueberries, after the United States. Nova Scotia’s Oxford Frozen Foods is the world’s largest provider of wild blueberries. Wild blueberries are even Nova Scotia’s provincial berry.

Cultivated blueberry plants were developed from the wild variety in the early 1900s. They are larger and less perishable, which makes them ideal for the fresh retail market. Much of the wild crop is destined for processing and freezing.

And because they freeze so well, East Coast restaurants and home chefs alike use this fresh taste of summer for sweet and savoury dishes year round. “You feel good eating them because you know they’re good for you,” Moncton’s Sue Calhoun says.

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