Surprise, surprise â€“ blueberries are the latest wonder food according to a recent press release from An Bord Glas.
Can you imagine the delight of the blueberry farmers in the Midlands when this was announced. A huge bonus in marketing terms, as we realise the importance of anti-oxidants in our diet to combat cancer. US medical studies have linked anthocyanins in blueberries (the pigment that makes the berries blue) to preventing cancer since they contain large amounts of these antioxidants. They are responsible for mopping up â€˜free radicalsâ€™ in our body which can lead to cancer. The antioxidants in blueberries are also linked to slowing the effects of ageing such as joint and vascular disorders, loss of memory, skin wrinkling and varicose veins- just what I need!
Further studies have indicated that the high pectin content in blueberries can assist in reducing cholestrol in the bloodstream while the berries have also been found to be beneficial in treating and preventing urinary tract infections. Additional claimed health benefits include improving night vision, helping the eyes adjust to bright light and helping to reduce eye strain.
Fancy that â€“ I didnâ€™t need an excuse to eat blueberries, Iâ€™ve always loved them and have feasted on them every year during the short season when Irish blueberries are in the shops. The plump juicy blueberries that are now abundant are the cultivated relatives of the wild bilberries, herts or fraughans, as the intensively flavoured wild blueberries are called in different parts of the country.
They were traditionally picked on the first Sunday of August during Lughnasa and eaten mashed with sugar or in pies. In good years when they were particularly plentiful, they were even made into jams.
The tiny blue/black berries grow on scratchy little bushes and are quite a challenge to pick in the wild. They are sublime, just simply crushed and sprinkled with sugar and eaten with a blob of softly whipped cream, or spooned onto a sheet of tender sponge cake. They are also a delicious accompaniment to Carrigeen Moss pudding.
The season is short but the flavour is so intense that it is worth organising a family expedition to go blueberry picking on a hilltop near you.
Alternatively, look for Irish blueberries â€“ theyâ€™ll be in the shops until early September so enjoy them while you can.
Autumn Fruit Salad
This recipe made in seconds makes a delicious fresh fruit salad. Use the best fruit you can find and dress it at the table just before you eat it.
4 ozs (110g/1 cup) Blackberries
4 ozs (110g/1 cup) Blueberries
4 ozs (110g/1 cup) Wild Strawberries (fraises du bois) or small strawberries
4 ozs (110g/ 1 cup) Raspberries
1 or 2 Peaches or Nectarines
Juice of 2-1 lemon
2 ozs (55g/scant 3 cup) sugar
Fresh mint leaves
Combine the berries and the sliced peaches or nectarines in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar and fresh lemon juice. Tear some fresh mint leaves into the fruit stir, taste and add more sugar or juice if necessary.
Blueberry Bread and Butter Pudding
Weâ€™ve been having fun ringing the changes with our Bread and Butter Pudding recipe. It is also delicious with apple and cinnamon or even mixed spice.
12 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed
55g (2oz/Â½ stick) butter, preferably unsalted
450g (1 lb) blueberries
450ml (16 fl oz/2 cups) cream
230ml (8 fl oz/1 cup) milk
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
175g (6oz/Â¾ cup) sugar
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) sugar for sprinkling on top of the pudding
1 x 8 inches (20.5cm) square pottery or china dish
Put the blueberries into a dish and sprinkle with sugar, leave to macerate for an hour.
Butter the bread and arrange 4 slices, buttered side down, in one layer in the buttered dish. Sprinkle the bread with half the blueberries, arrange another layer of bread, buttered side down, over the blueberries. Cover with the remaining bread, buttered side down.
In a bowl whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla essence and sugar. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve over the bread. Sprinkle the sugar over the top and let the mixture stand, covered loosely, for at least 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.
Bake in a bain-marie – the water should be half way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake the pudding in the middle of a preheated oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 1 hour approx. or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve the pudding warm with some softly-whipped cream.
Blueberry Muffins â€“ recipe courtesy of An Bord Glas
225g (8ozs) blueberries
225g (8ozs) self-raising flour
3 tablesp. sugar
Â½ teasp. salt
225ml (8fl.ozs) milk
50g (2ozs) melted then cooled butter
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/regulo 5.
Grease 24 patty tins
Sprinkle blueberries with 2 tablesp. of the sugar and a little sifted flour.
Sieve together the remaining dry ingredients, add the eggs, milk and butter and mix to a stiff batter.
Mix in the blueberries and divide the mixture into the prepared patty tins. Bake for 30 minutes.