going wil blueberry jewels

Going Wild! Blueberry Jewels

At the end of summer, Maine and northern New England offer magnificent little blue and silvery gems to the world: wild blueberries. This tiny fruit is unique from traditional blueberries in both size and color. Also known as lowbush blueberries, they are so small that about 1,000 of them fit into a pint box! Their flavor is unique with complexities ranging from sweet to tart.

Fresh wild blueberry season starts in late July and extends for about five to six weeks into August. Mostly grown in Maine and Canada, you can additionally find them in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and northern New York. Farms large and small offer fresh wild blueberries, and you can pick your own at many family-owned operations.

At Alexander’s Wild Blueberries in Greenfield, Maine, the picking season lasts only about three or four weeks. The family-owned business is 40 acres, now operated by fourth generation farmers, Denise and Jimmy Alexander.

“The plants grow here naturally; they like a rugged environment,” said Denise Alexander. “Buds set on the bushes in the fall. The plants love to sleep all winter under a blanket of snow. Then come April, everything begins to wake up.”

Alexander’s respect for the farm was evident in her reverence for the growing process, even the berries themselves. While none of their blueberries are cultivated, the family does care for the fields. Every other year, they prune back a field by mowing plants to the ground. Additionally, the berries all require raking, pollination, scouting for pests, weeding, and other daily care all spring and summer.

“It’s a labor of love, not a job,” she said. “I’m happy when my fields look good.”

Even after more than 30 years on the farm, Alexander still enjoys wild Maine blueberries every day. Her favorite way to eat them is in a smoothie. She also sprinkles them over breakfast cereal. As the Alexanders’ children grew up, and even as adults, they often request blueberry pie — never a cake — for birthdays and special occasions, and wild blueberry French toast casserole is a Christmas morning tradition. New England locals love to use wild blueberries in waffles, pancakes, and muffins, and every town/family seems to have its own secret recipes.

Most Americans are familiar with the more common highbush blueberry. These berries are bigger and can be cultivated almost anywhere.

“They are completely different plants,” said Todd Merrill, President, Wild Blueberry Association of North America. “The lowbush, or wild, blueberry grows low to the ground, about ankle high, and it grows and spreads naturally in the barrens of Maine and Eastern Canada.”

Wild blueberry plants aren’t typical row crops, Merrill explained, but grow underground in an interconnected rhizome system. In each field, there can be thousands of varieties so when the wild blueberries are harvested, you get a delicious blend of sweet and tart flavors. They have been around since the glaciers receded — thousands of years ago and thrive in a cold, harsh climate.

Later this summer, you can find Alexander in her fields, picking berries at dusk as she takes in the silent peace and tranquility of sunset on her farm during the harvest, her favorite time of year.

“The perfection is in the flavor,” Alexander said. “There’s nothing else like wild Maine blueberries anywhere.”

Note: Wild blueberries are available year-round in the freezer section or as dried fruit. You can source them nationwide at stores like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, and some farms ship frozen or dried berries. If you can’t find them, substitute regular, or highbush, blueberries in any of these recipes, noting that highbush blueberries are not quite as sweet or deep in flavor as wild, or lowbush, blueberries. Adjust your seasonings accordingly, to taste. For more about the Alexanders’ Wild Blueberry Farm in Maine, call (207) 570-7500 or go online: www.alexandersblueberries.com.

 

 

French Toast Casserole
(Serves 12)

Casserole
1 teaspoon coconut oil or vegan margarine
2 bananas, peeled and broken into chunks
1 cup plain, unsweetened vegan milk (I use soymilk)
1/4 cup blueberry jam (I use juice-sweetened)
4 Tablespoons ground flaxseed meal
2 Tablespoons organic sugar (optional, or to taste)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch ground allspice
Pinch salt (optional, to taste)
One loaf of vegan, plain bakery bread, cut into twelve 1-inch thick slices
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Blueberry Syrup
2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen and thawed)
1 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To Assemble the French Toast Casserole
The night before you plan to serve this (or a few hours before, at least), grease a 9×13-inch oven-safe casserole dish with coconut oil or vegan margarine. Set aside.

In a blender or food processor, combine bananas, vegan milk, blueberry jam, flaxseed meal, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt. Process until smooth and silky, and all banana chunks are broken down. To make this by hand, use a potato masher or sturdy fork to break down the bananas as much as possible.

Spoon a thin layer of banana liquid into the bottom of prepared casserole dish. Add bread in layers and pour on all remaining banana liquid. Using your hands, spread evenly onto both sides of all the bread. Really try to coat all the bread so that the liquid absorbs into it. Top with chopped pecans.

Cover casserole and place into refrigerator for at least three hours and up to overnight. This step is crucial for the bread to absorb all the marinade.

To Bake and Serve Casserole with Blueberry Syrup
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place casserole dish, uncovered, into oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Bread slices on top will get crispy first, so be sure to check for doneness.

While the casserole bakes, prepare the blueberry syrup. To make the syrup, add fresh or frozen/thawed blueberries, maple syrup, water, and vanilla to a saucepan over medium heat. Stir often to prevent burning. Syrup is done when everything is combined and a deep purple color; cooked berries will have burst and look soft.

Serve French toast slices while still warm, topped with blueberry syrup. Other fun topping ideas include fresh blueberries, blackberries or strawberries; powdered sugar; or Coconut Whip.

Total calories per serving: 249 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 47 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 134 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Blueberry Chia Parfait
(Makes 6 parfaits)

Chocolate Orange Layers
2 cups unsweetened, plain vegan milk
Zest of one orange
1/2 cup chia seeds, ground
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon orange extract

Blueberry Vanilla Layers
1 cup unsweetened, plain vegan milk
1 cup fresh blueberries, mashed to a pulp
1/2 cup chia seeds, ground
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Additional 1 cup fresh blueberries
Segments from zested orange, peeled and trimmed to bite-sized pieces

Optional Toppings
Mini vegan chocolate chips or cacao nibs
Vegan granola or rolled oats
Shredded coconut or Coconut Whip
Chopped walnuts or sliced almonds

To make the chocolate-orange chia pudding layer, combine vegan milk, orange zest, chia seeds, cocoa powder, maple syrup, and orange extract in a mixing bowl. Stir to combine and place in refrigerator for at least one hour to set up.

To make the blueberry-vanilla chia pudding layer, combine vegan milk, mashed blueberries, ground chia seeds, maple syrup, and vanilla extract in mixing bowl. Stir to combine and place in refrigerator for at least one hour to set up.

To assemble parfaits, layer chocolate-orange chia pudding, then fresh blueberries, next blueberry-vanilla chia pudding, and then fresh orange pieces. Repeat in each parfait glass until ingredients are used up. Top as desired with ideas from the list or your favorite toppings. Store in the fridge and serve chilled.

Total calories per serving: 308 Fat: 15 grams
Carbohydrates: 40 grams Protein: 13 grams
Sodium: 38 milligrams Fiber: 16 grams

Coconut Whip
(Makes about 2 cups)

One 13-ounce can coconut cream, chilled in fridge overnight
2 teaspoons organic sugar (optional, to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Scoop hardened coconut cream solids from the can. Do not use the liquid coconut water. Save this for some other use, like smoothies, soups, or sauces.

In a mixing bowl, combine chilled coconut cream solids, sugar (if using), and vanilla. Beat using an electric mixer on medium speed until frothy and light, but still able to form peaks. Store in refrigerator.

Total calories per 2 Tablespoon serving: 45 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 2 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 12 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

 

 

Blueberry Moon Latte
(Serves 1)

1 cup plain, unsweetened vegan milk (I like this with coconut, cashew, or oat milk — they are the creamiest.)
2 Tablespoons dried wild blueberries
1 chamomile tea bag
1 teaspoon maple syrup or agave nectar (optional, to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch ground cardamom

Add all ingredients to a saucepan. Over low heat, bring to gentle simmer and heat, stirring often, 3-4 minutes. Milk will begin to turn purple-blue. Remove teabag and serve warm in a mug. For a special treat, top with homemade Coconut Whip.

Total calories per serving: 110 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 17 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 25 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Arugula Salad with Blueberry-Pecan Dressing
(Serves 6)

Dressing
1/2 cup fresh or frozen and thawed blueberries
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup pecan halves
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon maple syrup or agave nectar
1 teaspoon dried sage
Pinch salt (optional)

Salad
6 cups fresh arugula
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and cubed (optional, rub with lemon juice to prevent browning)
1 small shallot, finely diced
1-1/2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/3 cup pecan halves, chopped

In a blender or food processor, add all dressing ingredients and purée until smooth and creamy with no chunks of nuts or berries remaining.

Toss all salad ingredient together and fold dressing into the mix. Serve cool.

Total calories per serving: 301 Fat: 18 grams
Carbohydrates: 32 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 105 milligrams Fiber: 10 grams

Savory Blueberry BBQ Sauce
(Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups)

1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon canola oil (or any neutral oil)
3 cups fresh or frozen and thawed, blueberries
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
6-ounce can tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup molasses
1 Tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground mustard seed
1 teaspoon arrowroot powder
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (add less for less heat)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch ground allspice
Pinch salt (optional)

Sauté onion, garlic, and ginger in canola oil over medium heat, until just fragrant, about 2-5 minutes.

Place all ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes until thickened to the texture of barbeque sauce.

Berries will burst during cooking and may make a popping sound. This is normal.

Allow to cool and purée in a blender or food processor (or using an immersion blender), to make sure all the blueberries and onions are broken down and smooth.

Use in any recipe where you would normally use barbecue sauce, such as on jackfruit (shown in photo above), seitan, tempeh, yellow squash, veggie burgers, or homemade baked beans. Store in refrigerator.

Total calories per 1/4 cup serving: 107 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 25 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 61 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Blueberry Kale Salad
(Serves 6)

Dressing
4 Tablespoons canola oil
3 Tablespoons orange juice
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon agave nectar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
Zest of one lemon
Pinch salt (optional)
Pinch ground white pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg

Salad
1 pound kale, stemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup green (or purple) cabbage, finely shredded
1/2 cup red onion, minced
2/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries
1/4 cup no-salt-added shelled sunflower seeds (sometimes we use hemp seeds or pepitas instead)
1 cup fresh blueberries

In a pint-sized mason jar with a lid, combine all dressing ingredients. Close jar tightly and shake until well combined.

Add all salad components except blueberries to a large serving bowl and pour dressing over. Massage salad until kale and cabbage are tender. Fold in blueberries and serve cool.

Total calories per serving: 296 Fat: 21 grams
Carbohydrates: 25 grams Protein: 6 grams
Sodium: 34 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Spiced Blueberry Butter on Sweet Taters
(Serves 4)

4 sweet potatoes, washed and pierced with a fork
1/3 cup fresh or frozen and thawed blueberries
One 13-ounce can cold coconut cream, chilled overnight in refrigerator
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch ground white pepper
Chopped fresh basil, to garnish

Bake sweet potatoes, wrapped in foil in the oven, at 400 degrees for 60-90 minutes, until soft when tested with a fork. To bake sweet potatoes in a microwave, pierce a little extra with fork, place on microwave-safe plate, and cook on high power for 7-10 minutes, rotating halfway through, until tender and warm in the center.

While baking the sweet potatoes, make your blueberry-coconut butter. Scoop chilled solids from the coconut cream can. Do not use the liquid part, save the separated coconut water in the can for other uses. In a bowl, fold chilled coconut cream solids with blueberries, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and white pepper. Allow berries to get squished and turn the cream a streaky blue.

Serve while sweet potatoes are hot. Cut open each potato and top with a 1-2 Tablespoon size dollops of blueberry coconut butter. Sprinkle with chopped basil and enjoy immediately.

Total calories per serving: 298 Fat: 16 grams
Carbohydrates: 36 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 118 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

 

 

Tofu Steaks with Blueberry Balsamic Glaze
(Serves 6)

1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup fresh or frozen and thawed blueberries
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
3-4 springs fresh thyme, leaves stripped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch salt (optional)
Two 14-ounce blocks firm tofu, thoroughly drained

Add all ingredients except tofu to a large saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until reduced by 1/3 volume, about 20 minutes. Stir often and do not cover or boil.

While making the blueberry balsamic glaze, slice drained tofu into slabs, about 1/2-inch thick. Layer into a casserole dish. Set aside.

When the glaze is reduced and slightly thickened, pour over the sliced tofu. Be sure to coat each piece entirely. Cover dish and place in refrigerator for at least an hour and up to overnight to marinate thetofu steaks.

To make the tofu, bake or pan-fry the marinated steaks. For baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment or a silicone baking liner. Reserving any unabsorbed glaze for later, arrange tofu steaks in a single layer on the cookie sheet and bake about 15 minutes. Flip the tofu steaks over and bake another 12-15 minutes until edges are crispy and browned.

To pan-fry, warm one Tablespoon canola oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Working in batches, fry tofu on each side about 1-2 minutes, until crisp and glossy.

Pour leftover glaze on top to serve tofu steaks and pair with your favorite sides, such as Brussels sprouts, steamed broccoli, or brown rice.

Total calories per serving: 209 Fat: 10 grams
Carbohydrates: 21 grams Protein: 11 grams
Sodium: 23 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Written by Rissa Miller

Rissa is the Senior Editor of the Vegetarian Journal. A vegan of 24 years, she organizes Baltimore Vegan Drinks and has a special love for goats, green tea, and greyhounds. She also writes fiction and poetry.

Written for The Vegetarian Resource Group, and originally appeared in the Vegetarian Journal

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