July 27, 2011

Soup to Nuts: Sipping the blues

If you can't get enough of blueberries, you're in luck. Now you -- and sometimes your dog -- can quaff them in tea, beer, vodka or coffee.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

There's nothing like a Maine summertime blueberry binge.

click image to enlarge

Owen Jolley, 2, picks blueberries with his mother Lindsey on Saturday at Libby & Son U-Picks in Limerick.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Pat Leslie and Jeri Stuart from Gorham gather highbush blueberries at Libby & Son U-Picks in Limerick.

Additional Photos Below

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BLUEBERRY FESTIVALS

35th ANNUAL BLUEBERRY FAIR IN KENNEBUNK

WHERE: First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, 114 Main St. (Routes 1 and 35)

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

WHAT: Blueberry muffins and pies, chowder luncheon, raffle, 40 artisans and crafters from all over New England

INFO: 985-3700

36th ANNUAL MACHIAS BLUEBERRY FESTIVAL

WHERE: Various venues downtown

WHEN: Aug. 19-21

WHAT: Baking and pie-eating contests, blueberry farm tours, more than 200 craft booths, foot races, Blackfly Ball, parade, blueberry quilt raffle; blueberry musical comedy Aug. 17-20, which costs $13 for adults and $5 for children

INFO: 255-6665

RANGELEY BLUEBERRY FESTIVAL

WHERE: Rangeley Inn, 2443 Main St.

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 18

WHAT: Blueberry jams, muffins and pies; gifts and crafts; entertainment for children.

INFO: 864-5364

WILD BLUEBERRY FESTIVAL AT UNION FAIR

WHERE: Union Fairgrounds, on Common Road off the Union Common

WHEN: Blueberry activities are scheduled for Aug. 21, 23, 25, 26 and 27

WHAT: Wild Blueberry Queen contest; kids' wild blueberry pie-eating contest; blueberry pie competition; wild blueberry muffin and dessert contests; blueberry pancake breakfast; free individual blueberry pies to all fair patrons on Friday.

HOW MUCH: Fair admission is $8 adults, $4 for children 12 to 14, free for children under 12

INFO: www.unionfair.org/Blueberry.cfm

WILTON BLUEBERRY FESTIVAL

WHERE: Various venues in Wilton

WHEN: Aug. 5-6

WHAT: Free concert, parade, vendors, crafts, fireworks, blueberry bazaar, blueberry cook-off, horse-drawn wagon rides, boat tours of Wilson Lake, firetruck rides, quilt and rug show.

INFO: 778-4726, or for a complete schedule go to www.wiltonbbf.com

40th ANNUAL WINSLOW BLUEBERRY FESTIVAL

WHERE: Winslow Congregational Church, 12 Lithgow St.

WHEN: Aug. 13

WHAT: Blueberry pancake breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m.; homemade blueberry pies; silent auction; large yard sale; hot dog stand

INFO: 872-2544; www.winslowucc.org/home

-- Compiled by staff writer Meredith Goad

A blueberry pie made with fresh berries is an exercise in hedonism. And there's nothing like blueberries from the farmers market thrown into a smoothie or mixed into some muffin batter.

If you aren't walking around with a blue tongue this time of year, you're not doing your job as a Mainer.

Blueberries are even more abundant this year, thanks to the loads of new products on grocery shelves that tout them as potent antioxidants. From blueberry juices to dried blueberries in cereals, there are more ways than ever to get your blueberry fix.

This year, I thought it would be fun to look at some ways you can drink your blueberries.

SMASHED BLUEBERRY

I could see a flash of disappointment in my father's eyes.

When he visits Maine, he trusts me to stock the fridge with a variety of Maine craft brews, and I had just handed him a 22-ounce bottle of beer that had "blueberry" on the label.

Like a lot of men, my father disdains flavored beers and flavored coffees.

The beer, a hybrid of a porter and a Scotch ale, was Smashed Blueberry from Shipyard Brewing Co. I had not tried it yet, but thought he might appreciate something new. Besides, he was in Maine, for goodness' sake. We consume blueberries in everything here.

"This one is brand new, just out in June," I explained to him. "It's supposed to be very good."

Our visit went by, and by the time I wanted some Smashed Blueberry myself, I realized I hadn't seen my father drink his beer. Hmpf. Probably hid it in the back of the refrigerator, I thought, so I went prospecting. Nothing there.

I picked up the phone and called. Did you drink that blueberry beer? Did you like it?

"Yes," he replied. "Surprisingly, I did."

He admitted that he had been apprehensive about letting something as foreign as blueberry-flavored beer pass his lips. He thought it would taste like chemicals or have some other kind of overpowering, unnatural taste. But it had a nice, subtle flavor, he said.

When I opened my own bottle, I immediately caught a strong but lovely scent of blueberries. It was a little strange to see a beer with a bluish-purplish tinge coming out of a bottle, but the flavor more than made up for that. Notes of chocolate and coffee, then the taste of blueberries rose and lingered on the tongue. I could definitely see pairing this with duck, ribs, barbecue and chocolate, as Shipyard suggests.

Most importantly, Smashed Blueberry tasted natural, as if, well, someone had smashed some fresh blueberries and added them to the beer. The flavor comes, Shipyard says, from natural liquid blueberry concentrate.

Try it, you'll like it. Even if you think you hate flavored beers.

Price: $7.99 for 22 ounces

WILD MAINE BLUEBERRY DOG TEA

For this product, I asked staff writer Aimsel Ponti's dog Odie for his opinion. Here's what he had to say:

At first, I was reluctant to try this bowl of colored water my human sat down in front of me. It appeared to contain no bacon, and therefore, I figured, it could not be any good.

What's that over there?

Sorry. I got distracted for a minute by some luscious smell coming from under the table.

I'm not normally a tea drinker. I prefer stuff that's spilled on the floor, and toilet water. Preferably not blue toilet water. But I gotta admit, this blueberry stuff was pretty good. It had a nice color -- amberish with tiny bits of tea leaves floating in it, kinda like my bath water after I've gotten into something I shouldn't have -- and a little fruitiness on the nose.

Once I got going, I lapped this stuff up like there was no tomorrow.

I heard my human say that the tea is good for me too. The company that makes it, Pet Bistro in some place called Pennsylvania (petbistro.us), says their blueberry tea is packed with antioxidants called anthocyanins. I have no idea what those are, but they're supposed to help me avoid diseases and live longer, and that makes my tail wag faster.

Not only does the tea contain wild Maine blueberries, it's certified organic by MOFGA, whatever that means. And it's real food, so even my human could drink it if she wanted to.

I give this product four woofs. It would have gotten five if it had a little bacon.

Price: $14.50 for 2 ounces

COLD RIVER BLUEBERRY VODKA

Let me make something perfectly clear up front: I absolutely love Cold River Vodka. It's my go-to brand for serving summer guests.

It's one of the two best vodkas I've ever tried, the other one being some incredibly smooth Russian vodka I had in Helsinki once, when I dined with a party that included the former governor of Maryland and we all got quietly snockered while eating our reindeer entrees. (It's a long story.)

I hope that will be enough to keep the good folks at Cold River Vodka (did I mention they do a lot of charity work?) from putting out a hit on me for what I'm about to say next.

Cold River Blueberry Vodka? Not so much.

When it first came out, I excitedly purchased a bottle to serve to guests from out of town. Everyone politely finished their drink, but no one wanted a second, and the bottle sat in the fridge, untouched, for the rest of the week.

Oh, it's fine for mixed drinks. And I appreciate the fact that it contains so little sugar compared with other ultra-sweet brands of flavored vodkas.

But served neat or on the rocks, it has an artificial taste (even though there's nothing artificial in it) that seems nothing like blueberries and is just not appealing.

Feel free to disagree with me. I'd love to hear from folks -- no friends or family of Cold River employees, please -- who think I'm crazy and wouldn't drink anything else.

Meanwhile, I'm sticking to plain, and plain delightful, Cold River Vodka.

Price: $36.99

MAINE ROOT BLUEBERRY SODA

This product, flavored with Maine blueberry juice, is kind of dangerous.

There are 165 calories and 40 grams of sugar in each 12-ounce bottle, but it's so danged delicious, and it actually doesn't taste too sweet.

It's like you ate a mouthful of blueberries and they somehow carbonated in your mouth. I could drink it every day.

If it makes you feel any better, the sugar in this soda is fair-trade certified organic evaporated cane juice. And the soda is delivered locally in a vehicle that runs on recycled restaurant fryer oil.

Price: $5.99 for a 4-pack

PINK BLUEBERRY LEMONADE

Armed with fresh blueberries from the farmers market, I tried this recipe from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council over the weekend, and soon found myself totally addicted. I couldn't stop drinking it.

The sweetness of the blueberries works with the sugar to cut the tartness of the fresh lemon. The whole berries floating in the glass among the ice cubes provide a taste of visual fun. It's like Maine's own version of bubble tea.

I would, however, like to recommend an extra step in preparation. If you chill the lemonade with the 2 tablespoons of blueberries still intact, as the recipe implies, the liquid won't really turn pink, and it will taste like regular lemonade. Try mashing the blueberries to release both color and blueberry flavor. Then you can add the remaining berries intact.

Drink up. But remember, you've been warned. Don't go blaming me when your family stages an intervention and tries to get you to enter a lemonade 12-step program.

1/3 cup sugar

11/4 cups fresh blueberries, divided

1/2 cup lemon juice

In a 1-quart glass measuring cup, combine sugar, 2 tablespoons of the blueberries and 1/2 cup water. Microwave on high until hot (about 1 minute); stir until sugar dissolves. Add lemon juice and enough cold water to make 1 quart. Chill.

Fill tall glasses with ice cubes, add chilled blueberry-lemon mixture and remaining berries, dividing equally. Garnish with lemon slices if desired.

FAIR TRADE WILD MOUNTAIN BLUEBERRY COFFEE

This product is one of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' most popular flavored coffees. Originally a seasonal coffee, it got such a strong response, the company started offering it year-round.

The folks at Green Mountain told me it fills the room with a "juicy, sweet and slightly buttery aroma," and that it had "just a hint of caramel sweetness" along with the blueberry flavor.

So I was expecting a lot when I brewed my first pot.

I'm a middle-of-the-road person when it comes to flavored coffees. Some I like; some I don't. This product was all right for a flavored coffee, but it didn't wow me like the blueberry soda.

It didn't really taste much like blueberries to me, and there was an odd aftertaste.

I wanted to give this product another chance, so the next time I used it to make iced coffee, and was much more satisfied with the result.

I would definitely make it again as an iced coffee to be sipped on the deck and enjoyed as a summertime treat.

Price: $9.49 for 12 ounces

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

 

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Additional Photos

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Growers report healthy highbush blueberry crops.

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Odie checks out Wild Maine Blueberry Dog Tea before lapping up a cupful.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

 


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