At last summer has arrived, and with it, the wonderful time of berry gathering. To my tastebuds there is nothing more delicious than a bowl of freshly collected wild strawberries and wild blueberries served with only with fresh milk and sugar - it instantly triggers bliss for me and brings back happy childhood memories of carefree sunny days spent grazing my way through the woods. My mouth, shirts and hands were stained a deep purplish red for weeks on end. I did not care. I was happy as a bear, gorging myself on this infinite supply of berries. That is how I came to be a forager at the age of five, a passion that has stayed with me all my life.
Blueberries are particularly prolific in northern pine forests, clinging to hillsides or hiding among heather. They prefer acid soils and in southern England they are most likely to be found around the moors. But they are more prolific Scotland and Wales. In the US they are mostly found wild in the Rockies and other mountainous regions of the western States. Commercial blueberries are widely cultivated in the Northeast.
Blueberries belong to the heather family. The tough, low growing plants can absolutely carpet a forest floor - providing a veritable a forager's paradise. The leaves are small, elliptical with finely serrated margins. The red flowers are typical heather type fairy bells, which dangle singly from the bush. They turn into deep bluish black berries by the end of July/beginning of August, depending on local conditions. To be sure, picking each soft little berry requires a certain degree of delicacy and many will squish their sweet juice all over your hands and clothes. Make sure you are dressed for the occasion, as you will never completely get them out again.
Some find cleaning the berries a chore as the little stalks can be somewhat tenacious, and tedious to pick off, but the effort is well worth it. Nothing quite compares with blueberry bliss - in fact my taste buds are performing a little dance of ecstasy at the mere thought of harvesting season drawing nigh. If you are lucky enough to find loads, perhaps along with some other berries, such as wild strawberries, raspberries or blackberries as well, you can make a cold berry soup - a favourite summer dish in Scandinavian countries, fruits of the forest ice cream, sorbet or yoghurt cream, which, when stabilized with vegetarian gelatine, makes an excellent cake filling. Blueberry milk shakes are equally delicious. Not to mention jams and syrups for later use. In short, there is no limit to blueberry delights.
Both berries and leaves are used medicinally. Blueberry leaves can be brewed as tea, which is said to lower blood sugar levels. However, recent animal research suggests that long term use administered in large doses can have adverse effects and it seems best not to use them regularly or excessively. Berries are known to enhance the peripheral blood circulation, which improves, among other things, the eye sight. This is particularly beneficial for diabetics and for people who find it hard to adjust to badly lit conditions. They are also hailed to improve blood supply to the brain and thus an excellent brain food. These findings suggest that Blueberries would recommend themselves as an ideal snack fruit for the elderly. They have also been found to reduce cholesterol and to catch free radicals. In fact, according to a study by Tuffts University, which examined 60 different fruit and vegetables, blueberries demonstrated the highest levels of antioxidant activity. Blueberries also act on the connective tissue, making it stronger and more stable. They have also been recommended for people who suffer from varicose veins. Furthermore, blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, an antioxidant compound found in wine which is known to protect the heart. However, wine made from blueberries has been shown to contain 38% more of this compound than red wine. They also contain another type of antioxidant compound that protects against colon cancer. Thus, blueberries are easily not just one of the most delicious fruits, but also one of the healthiest. Scoff as many as you can while the season is on!
Blueberry leaves contain oxalates, which, when concentrated in the blood can form crystals that can damage the kidneys. People with urinary problems or kidney disease should avoid oxalate containing foods.
Mash about 1 cup of blueberries. Add 1 cup of water (or more if you like it thinner). Simmer briefly, add sugar or honey to taste, strain through cheese cloth and cool.
Add one cup of blueberries to 1cup of milk and ½ cup of yoghurt. Whizz in a blender. Add sugar and/or lemon juice to taste.
There are gazillion delicious recipes for blueberry pies and cheesecakes. To maximize the healthful properties of this delicious treat forget the cheesecake and just fill a pie crust with a slightly cooked blueberry mixture.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Crumble the Graham crackers and mix with melted butter. Add just enough water to create a dough that sticks together. Press into a deep 9" pie tin.
Wash the berries. Combine corn starch, sugar and optional spices in a mixing bowl. Add lemon juice and water and blend well. Gently combine blueberries with the cornstarch mixture and fill into pie crust. They may overfill the tin, but the volume is reducded during baking.
If you like, add a crumb topping:
Rub together until it becomes a crumbly mixture and spread all over the pie. Cook for about one hour at 375°F or 190°C.
Serve with fresh whipped cream.
Clean and slightly bruise the blueberries, pour a little cassis over them and some sugar. Allow to marinate for a few hours until the sugar is dissolved and the blueberries have turned a little mushy.
In another bowl blend the fromage frais with the lemon juice and some sugar until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream and stir in the blue berries. If you add a little gelatine to the quark (follow instructions on the package) you can also use this cream as a filling for a pie crust.
Cold Blueberry soup:
Wonderful dessert/dish for a summer's day.
Take a quart of blueberries, bruise or mash. Add the same amount of water and a little lemon juice. Simmer, add sugar to taste. If you don't like the seeds and skins, you can strain the liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Dissolve a little cornstarch and add to thicken, but take care not to use too much. Simmer a little while longer, then allow to cool and put in the fridge. Whip some cream. When the blueberry soup is cold enough, serve with dabs of fresh whipped cream. Some people like to refine this recipe by adding a little cassis to the soup.
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