A Prize-winning Wild Blueberry Recipe
Lobsters aren't the only thing we have in abundance in Maine this summer. Wild blueberry growers are expecting the biggest harvest in a decade — 90 to 95 million pounds.
Did you know that when you buy a quart box of wild blueberries, you're likely getting dozens of different varieties of berries, some sweet, some tart, some grapey, some citrus-y? Pop a handful into your mouth and you get a jammy fusion of flavors. Pour a couple of cups of them into a piecrust, and the filling bakes and oozes into something deep, intricate, and just plain wonderful.
This diversity of flavor distinguishes wild blueberries from their cultivated, or highbush cousins, which hail from New Jersey, Michigan, and other states. (Wild blueberries are commercially harvested only in Maine and Canada.)
One acre of wild blueberries typically contains well over one hundred varieties of the berry, each one as genetically distinct from the other as a McIntosh apple is from a Delicious. The shin-high plants mingle as they grow, spreading underground by way of a shallow rhizome root system that sprouts new shrubs, which are clones of the original bush (some very old clones sprawl over areas as large as football fields). David Yarborough, a wild blueberry specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension estimates that there are 6.5 million distinct wild blueberry clones in Maine alone.
By contrast, there are just slightly more than one hundred varieties of the cultivated, or highbush, blueberry species, and since a grower is likely to plant only one or two of them, his field yields berries that are uniform in size, color, and flavor. Larger, sturdier, and easier to pick than wild blueberries, highbush berries are the variety you’re most likely to find in the supermarket produce section. But if you relish fruit for its flavor, not ease of harvest, you’ll find the cultivated globes, while tasty, can’t compete with the tart, distinctive flavor of wild blueberries.
Mainers celebrate their distinctive blue harvest each summer at the Machias Wild Maine Blueberry Festival (Aug. 17-19) and the Maine Wild Blueberry Festival at the Union Fair (Aug. 18-25).
Amanda Boyington’s Cinnamon Nut Coffee Cake
This coffee cake took first place in the 2010 Union Fair’s Wild Blueberry Dessert Contest.
1/2 cup of butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup wild blueberries
1/3 cup chopped nuts
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon butter, softened
1 Tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°. Cream together butter, sugar, eggs, sour cream, vanilla. Then add dry ingredients and fold in blueberries. Put half the batter in a greased bunt pan, then put in the filling. Add in the rest of batter. Bake for 45-50 minutes. Turn out on a plate and let cool. Drizzle with glaze.
Text excerpted from The Wild Blueberry Book (Down East Books).