Jun 26, 2017
by Ron Skaar
Blueberries, and their kin, are borne by several different species which range across northern Europe and North America. These berries belong to a well-traveled family going way back in time. A relative of the wild blueberry plant is possibly the oldest living thing on earth, estimated by botanists to be 13,000 years old.
Cousins of our Native American blueberries thrive in Asia, South America and Europe.
Roman authors Virgil and Pliny the Elder were familiar with the dark, aromatic berries.
The blueberry genus is similar to that of the azalea, the cranberry and the bilberry, an old Northern European fruit which it resembles.
Wild blueberries were nurtured and gathered by Native Americans for centuries. The blossoms of the fruit are shaped like a five-pointed star and are considered sacred. The tribe’s believed that their“Great Spirit”created the fruit during a vast famine to relieve the hunger of children.
Each growing season Native Americans harvested fifteen kinds of berries to eat fresh or dry for the winter. Indians pounded blueberries and cranberries into meat, drying the mixture to make pemmican. The dried blueberries were also mixed with cornmeal, honey and water to make the pudding called “sautauthig”.
The Wampanoag Indian tribe taught the struggling Pilgrims how to grow corn and gather blueberries to dry for the winter.“Sautauthig”was probably served at that first sociable dinner, Thanksgiving. Later on, Lewis and Clark saw Indians smoke blueberries to preserve for winter use and feasted on grilled meat covered in crushed dried blueberries.
Wild blueberries have dense texture and deep flavor and are much smaller than the cultivated variety. Elizabeth White, an enterprising daughter of a New Jersey farmer, gave local residents cash for wild blueberry plants with unusually large, plump fruit. By 1911 she had teamed up with USDA botanist Frederick Coville to crossbreed the plants with the most desirable properties. Five years later their first commercial crop was sold.
Most blueberries cultivated today are of the high bush variety. It is the largest fruit crop produced in Canada. America harvests over 90% of the worlds cultivated blueberries. Hammonton, New Jersey claims to be “blueberry capital of the world” with nearly 80% of the states crop coming from this one area!
Blueberries contain more disease-fighting antioxidants than practically any other fruit or vegetable. Antioxidants offset the damage of free radicals, protecting against the cell damage that accelerates aging and decreasing our susceptibility to disease. Blueberries contain soluble fiber pectin that helps lower cholesterol levels and are low in calories.
July is our “National Blueberry Month” and the 10th of this month is“National Pick Blueberry Day”. My mom, who took us berry picking as kids, made the most incredible pies. My favorite was always the blueberry. The dessert recipe included is a bit more work yet perfect for a sumptuous celebration.
Photo by Jon Russo
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons cornmeal
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup cream cheese, cut into pieces
1½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons ice water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
2 tablespoons each granulated sugar and light brown sugar with ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup light brown sugar
Zest and juice from 2 limes
¾ cups fresh orange juice
2 ¼ cups blueberries
½ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
3 egg whites
½ teaspoon cream of tartar.
1. In a food processor, pulse the first five ingredients. Add the cream cheese and butter and pulse until the dough resembles small peas. Sprinkle on the ice water and vinegar and pulse until dough forms. Turn dough unto work surface and knead until it comes together than wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl mix the sugars with the cinnamon. Cut the chilled dough into 2 sections. On lightly floured surface, roll out each piece to a 1/8 inch thickness and with a 4-inch round biscuit cutter stamp out 6 rounds. Poke each round with a fork, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar Bake on a parchment liked sheet for 13 minutes, let cool
3. Meanwhile make the compote by bringing the brown sugar, lime zest and juice, orange juice to a boil in a sauce pan. Add the blueberries and cook over moderate heat until they begin to pop. Let cool. Pour berries into strainer until most of liquid has drained off. Save blueberries and juice separately.
4. To make the meringue stir the ½ cup sugar with the water in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook without stirring until the syrup reaches 243 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 8 minutes. In a bowl beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until firm peaks form. Reduce speed and carefully add the syrup in a thin stream. Increase to high and beat until the meringue cools, 5 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange the disks on a baking sheet and using a slotted spoon, mound the berry compote onto the disks. Spoon the meringue onto six of the disks and using a fork, pull it into long spikes. Bake all the disks for 4 minutes until the meringue is golden. Put the meringue less disks on plates; place a meringue-topped disk on each and drizzle with blueberry sauce, serves 6