August 1, 2012

Soup to Nuts: Bounteous blueberries

Growers report an abundance of blueberries this year, so here are some ideas for how to put them to delicious use.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Karen Payeur is wrestling with the kind of problem she'd love to have every year.

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Pastry chef Emily DeLois created this Wild Maine Blueberry and Lemon Mascarpone Cheesecake, one of the recipes for this summer’s healthy crop of Maine blueberries that local chefs share here.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Spice-rubbed pan-seared duck breast with organic farmed vegetables, quinoa and blueberry-red wine sauce is offered by Mitchell Kaldrovich, chef at the Sea Glass Restaurant at Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth.

Courtesy photo

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IN CHEFS' HANDS

HERE'S a taste of what Maine restaurants are doing with blueberries this year:

Damariscotta River Grill, 155 Main St., Damariscotta: Blueberry cobbler with ginger scone

50 Local, 50 Main St., Kennebunk: Fermented blueberry mignonette with oysters.

Five Fifty-Five, 555 Congress St., Portland: Blueberry salad made with Maine highbush and wild blueberries, bibb lettuce, garnished with a ginger granola, aerated vanilla lemon yogurt, Maine honeycomb, local lavender and herb de provence vinaigrette. (Look on the menu for "blueberries for sal ad")

Earth at Hidden Pond, 354 Goose Rocks Road, Kennebunkport: Cheesecake mousse with blueberry compote, Sicilian pistacio and white chocolate

Seagrass Bistro, 305 U.S. Route 1, Yarmouth: Yogurt panna cotta with house-made blueberry lavender honey glaze. The yogurt is from Winter Hill Farm in Maine and the blueberries are from one of the islands out in Casco Bay.

On the Marsh Bistro, 46 Western Ave., Kennebunk: Blueberry kuchen

Black Point Inn, 510 Black Point Rd., Scarborough: Blueberry ganache served with Maine-made ice cream

East Ender, 47 Middle St., Portland: North Star Farm lamb with caramelized potatoes and blueberry gastrique

Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea, 40 Bowery Beach Road, Cape Elizabeth: Blueberry shortcake and a Maine blueberry martini.

– Meredith Goad, staff writer

FERMENTED BERRIES

LOOKING for something a little different? David Ross, chef at 50 Local in Kennebunk, shares his technique for fermenting blueberries at

pressherald.com/blogs/mainealacarte

The blueberry bushes at her pick-your-own operation in Sanford have painted the landscape beautiful streaks of blue. She hasn't been able to mow yet, because the branches are so heavy with berries they're sagging between the rows.

"This is the best year we've ever had in 14 years," Payeur said, becoming a little more giddy the more she talked about her 2012 harvest. "It's crazy."

Allen Crabtree of Crabtree's Blueberries in Sebago has a bumper crop of highbush blueberries this year as well.

"I have never seen so many blueberries," Crabtree said. "We've had a pick-your-own operation since 2001, and this is by far the best crop we have had, the most berries on the bushes."

It's that time of year when a blue tongue becomes a Mainer's best fashion statement. We've gathered great blueberry-inspired recipes for you from local chefs, enough so that you could plan a whole meal, from salad to dessert, around this juicy summer pleasure. We've even thrown in a Blueberry Cobbler cocktail.

These recipes use both wild and cultivated berries, and which ones you prefer are a matter of taste.

Wild berries spray your taste buds with a touch of tart along with sweet. They freeze better, and are preferred for baked goods because they don't "bleed" into batter when they hit the oven.

Because they're smaller, they have more skin than pulp, and the skin is where the antioxidants that help protect your health reside.

Highbush berries do come in smaller varieties, but generally they are a bit larger and a little sweeter than wild berries.

The highbush blueberry harvest is under way, and in places like Union and Ellsworth, wild blueberry growers have just started raking berries for the fresh market. Blueberry barrens farther down east will follow by Aug. 1. (Just 1 percent or less of wild Maine blueberries are sold fresh; most are destined for the freezer and then are packaged or added to other products later.)

"I think, overall, the consensus is that everybody feels we have a good to better-than-average crop," said David Yarborough, wild blueberry specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, who has been visiting the eastern blueberry barrens. "The size is very good. We've had very good moisture conditions. Pollination was fairly good in most spots. I know there's been a few hot days, but overall it's been fairly wet and cool, so the berries are doing very good quality wise."

Last year's wild blueberry harvest reached 83 million pounds, and expectations are that this year it will reach 90 to 95 million pounds. That's not too far from the bumper crop of 110 million pounds growers saw in 2000.

Just like strawberries, some blueberries ripened a little early this year. A couple of highbush growers were open to picking about a week to 10 days early, while others said their crops were right on time.

Payeur said her berries were almost two weeks early this year, and she wonders if that means an earlier end to the season.

"It all depends on what the weather is going to do," she said. "If we have cool evenings, it may slow the ripening down."

Crabtree said he opened to the public just a couple of days early this year. Half of the six varieties of blueberries he grows – the Blues, Berkeleys and Little Giants – are ready for picking. The Jerseys, normally ripened by this time, were a little slow coming along.

Crabtree said the weather was optimal for highbush blueberries this year: Mild winter, good pollination, rain when the bushes needed it, followed by hot and sunny days ideal for ripening the berries.

(Continued on page 2)

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