Blueberries are definitely the ‘new black’

Blueberries are definitely the ‘new black’ – seems like every magazine and cookery article I picked up for the last few weeks has an article extolling the virtues of this plump little berry – In season from May to October, we’re told they are packed with Vitamins C and E, manganese, dietary fibre, low in calories and virtually fat free. Research has shown that they come out tops in their capacity to destroy free radicals and are credited with helping to strengthen eyesight because of the substance called anthocyanin which they contain, they improve the support structures in the veins and entire vascular system and may help reduce cholesterol and provide protection against ovarian cancer. They also help prevent urinary tract infections. The US Department of Agriculture has claimed that they contain 50% more antioxidants than strawberries, 100% more than oranges and 400% more than broccoli and spinach.
Truly remarkable, even though I greatly enjoy blueberries I have to say that I am getting increasingly cynical about each new wonder food and while I love the juicy cultivated Irish berries, I still hanker for the tiny intensely flavoured wild bilberries which we call herts or fraughans (they are known as blaeberries in Scotland) . They are in season for a short time around the beginning of August and can be picked from the low growing bilberry bushes on hilltops and mountain ranges around the country. Because of their size they take ages to pick enough for a decent plateful, but the flavour is bittersweet and intense. You’ll need to wear thorn proof clothing to protect you from the scratchy bushes.
I wouldn’t dream of cooking fraughans. I’m convinced they taste best when lightly crushed with a sprinkling of sugar and then eaten with some rich pouring cream. Try to find the Glenilen traditional cream – divine – a forgotten flavour, like cream used to taste before the bottom line became more important than the flavour.
Ireland now grows about 20 tons of blueberries annually . A renowned Irish horticulturist Dr. Lamb established a 10-acre blueberry farm in near Portarlington, Co Offaly in 1965 after he recognized the commercial potential of growing American varieties in Irish bog-land. They love acid soil. A colleague John Seager became involved with the pioneering work in 1977 and took over the plantations in 1995, 20 acres of blueberries at Derryvilla now produce 70% of Irish blueberries. John still owns the plantation and is very involved and Nuala O’Donogue runs the operation on a day to day basis in Derryvilla. Nuala would like to let people know that they can come and pick their own blueberries on the farm every day, they hope to have blueberries up to mid-September. They also have some excellent quality early season frozen blueberries for sale. Our nearest source is Sunnyside Farm in Rathcormac, Co Cork where John Howard added sulphur to 2½ acres of his land to get rid of the lime and create the correct PH for blueberries to thrive. This year he produced about 3½ tons and will have frozen blueberries (as well as other berries) available from his shop every Saturday from 2-5 during the off-season.
This year the blueberries seem larger and plumper than ever before probably because of the abundance of rain throughout the summer months. The flavour seems less zingy but nonetheless delicious. I’ve been eating them in every possible way for the past few weeks but being passionate about local and seasonal I was shocked and distressed to find that the blueberries in the local Supervalu store in West Cork were from Poland, others come from Italy, at almost twice the price of the Irish ones in the middle of the season. Where’s our patriotic streak, its high time we made our voices heard and voiced our support for shops and supermarkets who sell local food in recognition of the local customers who support them and condemn those who sell imported produce in the midst of the Irish season. We need more cooperation between producers and retailers – a bond of trust and a fair price.
Even if you are vigilant its so easy to fall into the trap – I am passionate about buying Irish and local whenever possible but I was conned by O’Driscoll’s fresh raspberries in mid-season. With a name like that one would assume that they must come from West Cork or Ireland at least, but on closer examination of the small print I discovered the raspberries came from the US. How about that for carbon footprint and airmiles!
Could readers write or email me (darina@cookingisfun.ie) the names of local shops or supermarkets which highlight local foods and I will be happy to publish them for other readers.


Emer Fitzgerald’s Blueberry Scones

Makes 18-20 scones using a 72 cm (3inch) cutter
900g (2lb) plain white flour
170g (6oz) butter
110g (4oz) blueberries
3 free range eggs
pinch of salt
55g (2oz) castor sugar
3 heaped teaspoons baking powder
450ml (15floz) approx. milk to mix
For glaze:
egg wash (see below)
granulated sugar for sprinkling on top of the scones

First preheat the oven to 250C/475F/gas mark 9.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter. Add the blueberries. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board. Knead lightly, just enough to shape into a round. Roll out to about 22cm (1inch) thick and cut or stamp into scones. Put onto a baking sheet – no need to grease. Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in granulated sugar. Bake in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.
Serve split in half with butter.
Egg wash:
Whisk 1 egg with a pinch of salt. This is brushed over the scones and pastry to help them to brown in the oven.


Warm duck breast salad with pine kernels and blueberries

Serves 4
a selection of lettuces and salad leaves eg. lollo rosso, frisse, butterhead and rocket
1 large duck 
Walnut dressing
3 tablesp. walnut oil
1 tablesp. wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper

2-3 pine kernels
4 tablesp. blueberries

Wash the salad leaves and dry well. Make the dressing and set aside. Score the skin of the duck breast, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and cook skin side down on a heavy pan for 10-15 minutes depending on size, turn over and continue to cook until cooked but still slightly pink in the centre.
Toast the pine kernels until golden, keep warm
To serve
Toss the lettuces and salad leaves in just enough dressing to make the leaves glisten, add the pine kernels and toss again. Divide between the four plates, slice the duck breast thinly, arrange 3 or 4 slices on top of the mound of salad. Scatter a tablespoon of blueberries over each plate. Serve immediately.

Blueberry and Apple Pie

The pastry is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from 'hot hands' don't have to worry about rubbing in the butter.
Serves 8-12

Pastry
8 ozs (225g) butter
2 ozs (55g) castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
12 ozs (340g) white flour, preferably unbleached

Filling
18oz (500g) Bramley Seedling cooking apples
6oz (175g) blueberries
5 ozs (140g) sugar
egg wash-made with one beaten egg and a dash of milk
Castor sugar for sprinkling

To Serve
Softly whipped cream
Barbados sugar

tin, 7 inches (18cm) x 12 inches (30.5cm) x 1 inch (2.5cm) deep

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/regulo 4.

First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle. 
To make the tart
Roll out the pastry 1/8 inch (3mm) thick approx., and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Peel, quarter and dice the apples into the tart, add the blueberries and sprinkle with sugar. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the apples are tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and barbados sugar. 

Mango, Blueberry, Pomegranate and Kiwi Salad

Serves 4
Great for breakfast or dessert.

2 mangoes
1 pomegranate
2 kiwis 
1/2 punnet of blueberries
1-2 tablespoons sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon or lime

Peel and chop the mango into cubes, deseed the pomegranate and add to the mango in a bowl. Peel and dice the kiwi and add with the blueberries to the mango and pomegranate in the bowl. Add 1-2 tablespoons of sugar and the juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime. Toss gently and taste.

Banana and Blueberry Smoothie

Play around with whatever ingredients you have to hand
Serves 1-2

225ml (8fl oz) natural yogurt
1 ripe banana
1 teaspoon honey (optional)
110g (4oz) blueberries

Peel the banana, chop coarsely, add the blueberries and blend with other ingredients in a liquidizer until smooth.
Pour into glasses and serve immediately.
Note: if you prefer you can leave out the banana and just use blueberries.

Blueberry and Lemon Passion

- from Mary Berry One Step Ahead
This luxurious dessert, which can be made with raspberries or blackberries instead of blueberries if you prefer, is very quick and easy to make, requiring only a few ingredients.

Serves 4-6

150g (5oz) fresh blueberries
200ml (7fl.oz) tub of half-fat crème fraîche
150ml (¼ pint) thick Greek-style yoghurt
3 good tablespoons luxury lemon curd
Grated zest of 1 lemon and juice of ½
Icing sugar

You will need 4 wine glasses or shot glasses

Reserving 3 blueberries for the top of each glass, sprinkle the remaining blueberries in the bottom of each glass.
Stir the crème fraîche, yoghurt and lemon curd together, adding the lemon zest and juice. Taste the cream and, if you think it needs to be a little sharper, add more lemon juice.
Spoon the lemon mixture over the blueberries and smooth the tops. Chill for at least an hour or overnight.

• This can be made completely up to 48 hours ahead, then just top with the reserved blueberries and dust with icing sugar before serving. It is not suitable for freezing.

Decorate each glass with 3 blueberries and dust with icing sugar.

Ballymaloe Blueberry Muesli

Serves 8
This is a huge favourite with all our family and friends – its such a good recipe to know about because its made in minutes and so good. We vary the fruit through the seasons – strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blueberries, and grated Cox’s Orange Pippin apples or Egremont Russet in the Autumn.

6 tablespoons rolled oatmeal (Quaker Oats)
8 tablespoons water
250g (8oz) fresh blueberries
2-4 teaspoons honey

Soak the oatmeal in the water for 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, mash the blueberries roughly with a fork and mix with the oatmeal. Sweeten to taste with honey, a couple of teaspoons are usually enough but it depends on how sweet the blueberries are.
Serve with pouring cream and soft brown sugar.