Gotta love the blues

wild blues
“Tame” lowbush Canadian blues are frozen and sold around the world.

Prepare to go wild Sunday, Aug. 23 at the 6th annual wild blueberry festival at Evergreen Brick Works.

And come hungry, so you can taste the more than 30 blueberry-laden sweets and savouries for sale and vote with your taste buds for the best wild blue pie.

Along with the familiar pies, jam and muffins, you’ll find wild-blueberry-infused beer and kombucha fermented tea. The juicy berries also star in cinnamon tamales, laddus from India, ice pops, soup, wild boar sausages and much more.

At the tasting table, try wild and cultivated berries, then take home a pint or bag of your favourite to sprinkle over breakfast and salads, cook into a barbecue sauce or bake into dessert.

Festival regular Laura Sabourin, owner of Feast of Fields organic farm near Jordan in Niagara, says there are four types of blueberries:

  1. Wild lowbush blueberries, which Sabourin brings to local farmers markets, grow on scrubby little plants in the Northern Ontario woods in an arc around Sudbury. Indigenous people harvest them with hand-held rakes, a back-breaking job, then transport them from 10 minutes to two hours to the nearest road for collection.
  2. “Tame” wild blueberries grow on the same low bushes throughout the Maritimes. They’re managed, mechanically harvested and graded like a regular crop before being frozen for supermarkets and food processors.
  3. Big fat highbush or cultivated blueberries, just finishing at Wilmot Orchards in Newcastle and other local farms, are fun to harvest from waist-high (or higher) bushes. They make attractive desserts and are easy for kids to eat.
  4. Sabourin grows certified organic highbush blueberries, but says she sells 100 times more wild berries to people who’ve taken their health benefits to heart and love their full flavour.

To Your Health

Besides being low-cal, naturally sweet and a good source of Vitamin C and fibre, blueberries get their deep blue skin colour from anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant credited with amazing feats, from potentially preventing cancer and protecting our hearts to slowing down memory loss as we age.

Since tiny wild blueberries contain more skin to pulp than their cultivated cousins, they’re touted as providing even more antioxidant power. “Who knew what an ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) score was five years ago?” asks Sabourin, referring to the test measuring the antioxidant capacity of foods.

World Famous

Cultivated and wild Canadian blueberries are enjoyed around the world. British Columbia’s summer harvest of nearly 68 million kilograms makes Canada the world’s third largest highbush blueberry producer. In Nova Scotia, where harvesting has just begun, producers harvested a record 28 million kilograms of “managed” wild blueberries last year, says Peter Rideout, executive director of the Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia. East Coast berries are frozen within 24 hours and shipped year-round to 30 countries, from the U.S. to China.

Price Watch

August is normally prime time for fresh blueberries, but it’s been a tough year. A warm, early spring on the West Coast brought on B.C.’s highbush crop early, colliding with U.S. berries and dragging prices down. In Ontario, a cold spring hurt the highbush crop and severely damaged the wild crop, sending prices soaring. Last week in Toronto I bought a pint of wild blueberries for $13 and a pint of cultivated berries for $2.50. Take your pick!

  • Buy & Store
    Avoid berries that are damp, squished, wizened or mouldy.
    Refrigerate, loosely covered, and use within two weeks.
    Blueberries freeze beautifully up to a year.
    To freeze, place in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze. Transfer to plastic bags or containers and scoop out as needed.
    There’s no need to thaw frozen berries before baking.
  • Prep
    Rinse and drain fresh or frozen blueberries just before use.
    For best flavour, bring fresh berries to room temperature before serving.
  • Serve
    Go traditional, with pie, cobblers, muffins, jam, blueberry pancakes and sauce for meat.
    Go modern with smoothies, salads, salsa and pizza.
    Peach and lemon are two favourite flavour mates.
quinoa kale blueberry salad
Quinoa kale blueberry beet Superfood salad courtesy BC Blueberry Council

Blueberry Superfood Salad

Use wild or cultivated berries for this healthy main-course salad adapted from the BC Blueberry Council. While I’m not 100% sold on flax oil, I loved all the different flavours in this Super salad.

2 cups packed chopped kale, stems removed

1 1/2 cups blueberries

2/3 cup quinoa, cooked and cooled

1 cup raw beet, peeled and grated (1 medium)

3 tbsp hemp hearts

1/2 cup lemon flax vinaigrette (recipe below)

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Lemon Flax Vinaigrette

3 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp honey

2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1-1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp turmeric powder (optional)

1/4 cup flax seed or olive oil

For vinaigrette, in a bowl whisk together lemon juice, honey, lemon zest, salt, pepper and turmeric. Slowly drizzle in oil, whisking until thick.

For salad, in a bowl combine kale, blueberries, cooled quinoa, grated beet, hemp hearts and vinaigrette. Refrigerate an hour or so to blend flavours. Top with sunflower seeds just before serving.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

First published in the Toronto Star Aug. 19, 2015

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