Good things come in small packages.
The same can be said of the tiny wild Maine blueberry being harvested this time of year on otherwise barren rocky fields.
In fact, the land in northern Maine where these short scruffy bushes grow is referred to as ‘the barrens.’
About one third of the size of cultivated blueberries commonly sold in most supermarkets, Maine’s petite deep purple wild berries have been popping up on their own without human help for more than ten thousand years.
“The plants are not fast growing but they’re long lasting,” says David Yarborough, wild blueberry specialist and professor of horticulture at the University of Maine. “I eat my way through the fields and have wild blueberries with oatmeal for breakfast every day.”
To learn how wild blueberries are different from the tame (that’s what the US Department of Agriculture calls cultivated blueberries) I joined a group of food bloggers for an educational farm to table tour called “Blog the Barrens!”
We braved a little cold and rain but blessed the weather conditions as ‘good for the berries!’ and enjoyed wonderful meals together as we tasted and talked – it was all about the wild Maine blueberry.
At Havana restaurant in Bar Harbor, wild blueberries find their way into blueberry butter, blueberry vinaigrette sauce for scallops, and blueberry compote for goat cheese cheesecake. We were greeted with a wild Maine blueberry Mojito since Havana’s theme is a latin inspired menu.
We also spotted a very famous and discriminating ‘foodie’ and fellow blogger…Martha dining right next to us at Havana.
No we didn’t get a chance to chat but the Martha sighting had me craving more berries and appreciating the gorgeous views!
The bartenders at the Bar Harbor Inn shakes up blueberry martinis and executive chef Louis Kiefer makes a variety of wild blueberry salsas.
RECIPE: Wild Blueberry & Tomato Salsa
1 cup Wild Blueberries
1 cup quartered Cherry Tomatoes
1/4 cup diced Yellow Bell Pepper
Chiffonade of Fresh Basil Leaves
Pinch of Sea Salt & Cayenne
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons Walnut Oil (or olive oil)
1-2 tablespoons of Fruit Vinegar (Champagne vinegar, Blueberry vinegar! or Red Wine Vinegar for instance)
Mix well and serve- great with tortilla chips (duh) or on top of grilled fish ( as in photo above)
WILD ABOUT WILD BLUEBERRIES IN MAINE!
It’s easy to find blueberry pancakes and blueberry ice cream on just about every menu in Maine. (And as a design on table linens and other decor) Let’s get another look at that wild blueberry ice cream!
Yarborough explains that while blueberries grow wild in Maine, farmers manage the fields where they grow to control competing weeds and insects to ensure a healthy crop. This year will be a banner year for wild blueberries because the weather was ‘honeybee friendly’ during the critical pollination phase.
Speaking of the harvest….there are mechanical harvesters but much of the crop today is still gathered as it has been for years…by raking the berries into a toothy contraption in back and forth motions so the berries tumble into the catch. It’s back breaking work and I had enough of it in five minutes. Cheers to those humble heroes who harvest our sweet crops!
Big Nutrition, Small Berry
Wild blueberries offer banner nutrition too. Because the berry is tiny there’s more skin to flesh ratio so the wild blueberry is twice as high in fiber and much higher levels of antioxidants as compared to bigger cultivated berries. Registered dietitian Kit Broihier, who works with the Wild Blueberry Association of North America says, “Tiny is huge when it comes to nutrition. The wild blueberry has concentrated levels of nutrients that support eye, heart and brain health.”
While the savoring of fresh wild blueberries is an annual celebration during harvest in Maine, the majority of the state’s crop heads immediately to the freezer. “It’s nature’s pause button,” says Yarborough. Freezing maintains the color, shape, and flavor of the fruit and creates a food product that’s available year round and worldwide.
And studies show that freezing not only protects but actually increases the availability of nutrients in blueberries. You can find wild Maine blueberries in most supermarkets in the frozen fruit section. Or….you can head to the state of Maine for the late summer harvest next year. Besides it’s the best time of year to visit Vacationland.