The late comedian George Carlin proposed the reason why there was no blue food. His paranoid assertion: “Someone is keeping it hidden because it probably bestows immortality.”
Carlin discounts blueberries by calling them purple, but I beg to differ. Blueberry sauce often has a reddish-purple glow, but blueberries themselves run from a powdery blue sheen, to a very deep indigo.
It’s blueberry season where we live, right now, and for many people eating fresh blueberries is like devouring a bowl full of summer. (Others tend to eat them all year round since they are available from the American South, Chile, Argentina and even Australia.) But the best ones are, of course, local and seasonal, and ripe and ready to eat from late July to the end of August.
Blueberries have a very special link to those who grew up in Ontario. The blueberry bush is a native North American species and early settlers hereabouts incorporated them into their diets and medicines. North America accounts for about 90 percent of the world’s crop according to the Ontario Berry Growers Association website.
Ontario grows two major varieties of blueberry, the lowbush which grows wild and the highbush which has been cultivated since 1976. (Surprisingly acid rain has encouraged the growth of lowbush blueberries by reducing the PH level of the soil.) The lowbush blueberries are often called wild blueberries. They are smaller and most people seem to agree that their flavour is more intense than in the larger cultivated highbush blueberries. These lowbush blueberries are “as rare as hen’s teeth”, however. A quick survey of local berry farms and markets revealed that you can buy them frozen in a couple of places (The Mustard Seed Co-op, for instance). But the only place I found, that promised to have them fresh was Picone’s in Dundas (they should be coming in, in a couple of weeks). If you know any other places that sell them, I’d love to find out about it.
Here’s a confession: I never used to like blueberries and would wonder how anyone could eat them fresh, out of their hands. I enjoyed them sweetened up — in blueberry muffins, or blueberry sauce, or blueberry pancakes and — especially — blueberry pie. Then, in a burst of “healthy eating” frenzy, I began to sprinkle them on yogurt — which did help to kill the vile flavourlessness of the plain yogurt. You see, I had been scouring the Internet and became carried away by the notices of how healthy they are — really a sort of superfood. For instance, blueberries have one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits. Antioxidants are important because they combat something called free radicals that can damage cellular structures as well as DNA. This means that they have potential benefits for the nervous system and for brain health. There is even some evidence that they improve scores on memory tests and slow down cognitive problems frequently associated with aging. They are full of vitamin C; are low in calories — about 80 per cup — and practically fat free; they are loaded with fibre; and they are an excellent source of manganese which plays an important part in bone development and converting carbohydrates and fats into energy.
Here’s the beginning of a wonderful poem by Robert Frost where he uses blueberries as a starting point to say everything there is to say about the economics of a small farming community.
by Robert Frost
“You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson’s pasture today:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!” …
The rest of the poem is at
And here’s an easy recipe for something good to eat on a long weekend breakfast.
Blueberry Almond Coffeecake
from Gourmet magazine, July 2000
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tbsp sugar
2 whole large eggs
1 tsp vanilla or 1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 cups blueberries
1 egg white
1 cup sliced almonds
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 2 – 2 1/2 quart ceramic or glass baking dish.
2) Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Beat together butter and 1 1/4 cups sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in whole eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and milk in batches, beginning and ending with flour and beating on low speed after each addition until incorporated. Fold in berries.
3) Spoon batter into baking dish spreading evenly.
4) Lightly beat egg with a fork and add remaining 3 tbsp sugar and almonds, stirring to coat.
5) Spoon topping evenly over batter and bake in middle of oven until golden brown and a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes.
This can be made a day ahead and kept covered at room temperature. Reheat, covered in a 350 degree oven.