Market Fresh: Blueberries abound in B.C.

Did you know that in 2015, British Columbia was the largest Canadian producer of cultivated blueberries, yielding 70,000 tonnes, and the world’s largest producer of blueberries by region?

It’s blueberry season!

How many can you eat in one sitting?

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I can easily polish off a pint at the market and more when I get home.

I could actually just fill this column with recipes.

Instead, I will tell you all about these little blue gems and then give you lots of ways to use them.

Did you know that in 2015, British Columbia was the largest Canadian producer of cultivated blueberries, yielding 70,000 tonnes, and the world’s largest producer of blueberries by region?

This isn’t really surprising if you drive anywhere around here. What is surprising is the variation in taste among all the different producers.

Soil type and location factor into the flavour in a big way. Take a walk around the market and sample the berries from each farmer. Ask them how the berries are grown.

Some spray to keep pests and diseases away, some don’t. Some are organic and biodynamic, some aren’t. Try them all season, too. There are many different varieties, each one with a unique taste.

In case you are wondering, blueberries are native to North America. B.C. is home to cultivated, or highbush, berries while Atlantic Canada is the major producer of wild, or lowbush, berries.

Wild blueberries are not planted but are managed through pruning or burning. Cultivated berries require acidic soil, lots of water and bees. Blueberries don’t self-pollinate, which is why you will see clusters of hives out in the fields. It’s a great example of complimentary farming practices, the payoff being hundreds of pounds of blueberries — and blueberry honey.

Nutritionally, blueberries are a significant source of vitamins C and K, as well as magnanese, an important mineral for protecting bone density that may a play a role in reducing inflammation and regulating blood sugar, too.

So how best to get those little blue powerhouses into your diet — aside from eating them by the handful?

Actually throwing a handful into a spinach salad is super easy and yummy, especially if you are adding feta cheese and some slivered almonds.

How about grilled chicken or pork topped with a fresh blueberry salsa? Season the meat ahead of time with some John Spice and let it sit while you prepare the salsa.

Finely dice 2 tbsp of red onions or shallots, 2 tbsp yellow peppers and 1 tbsp cilantro. Place in a small bowl and add 2 cups blueberries. Smash them up and stir in 2 to 3 tbsp of Aji chunky chili sauce (mild or medium) and let rest. Grill the meat and spoon the salsa over top. It’s fast and delicious.

Another savoury blueberry treat is flatbread. Try spreading a naan with some Golden Ears Quark cheese, onions that have been caramelized with pear vinegar and dried thyme from the Cawston Farmer, and blueberries. Bake in a hot oven for 7 to 8 minutes, then sprinkle with arugula micro greens.

As for sweet uses, we all know about adding blueberries to muffin batter, pancakes and other quickbreads, but did you know you can make a fast, fresh jam, too? Simply mash a cup of blueberries, add a bit of sugar if you like, and 1 tbsp of chia seeds. The chia seeds will “set” the jam. I like to add a bit of vanilla sometimes, too. Delicious.

Another idea: Try using blueberries instead of raisins in a butter tart — my mom used to do that — and top the tart with a dollop of Golden Ears Cheesecrafters Quark. I won third place in the blueberry dessert competition at market with this recipe.

However you do it, make sure you get your fill of fresh blueberries this summer.

Karen Curtis is the Lemonade Lady (kicslemonade.ca) at the Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam farmers markets.

••••••••

THE RECIPE: Blueberry tart
 

This Blueberry Tart with Puff Pastry is so easy to make and so pretty to serve. Golden, flaky crust filled with creamy cheesecake filling, topped with fresh blueberries.

Easy Blueberry Tart
(source: suburban simplicity)
1 8-oz. sheet frozen puff pastry thawed
1 large egg beaten
1 tbsp turbinado sugar (can substitute granulated sugar)
4 oz. cream cheese room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp grated lemon zest
3 tbsp powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups blueberries

Heat oven to 375 F. On a parchment-lined baking sheet or Silpat mat, unfold the sheet of pastry and smooth it out.

Using the tip of a knife, score a 1-inch border around the pastry without cutting all the way through the dough. Brush just the border with beaten egg and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake until golden and puffed, 15 to 20 minutes. Re-score the border of the baked pastry with your knife without cutting all the way through. Gently press the centre of the pastry sheet down to flatten it. Let cool to room temperature, 15 to 20 minutes. While pastry bakes, beat the cream cheese, cream, lemon zest 2 tablespoons of the powdered sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly in the centre of the pastry. Place blueberries over the filling and dust with the remaining tablespoon of powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

• Note: To make ahead, prepare the puff pastry and cream cheese, and keep them separate until ready to serve.

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