I I swear by my worn copy of David Joachim’s “The Food Substitution Bible.” This culinary reference book contains ounce-for-ounce substitutions for thousands of ingredients that could be included in a recipe. If I don’t have a specific ingredient in the larder, this book guides me to appropriate substitutions in an appropriate measure.

For example, if I need 1 tablespoon fresh galangal, Joachim explains that substituting 1 tablespoon grated ginger plus ¼ teaspoon lemon juice will work in its stead. If I’m low on labne, he says to simply strain a cup of plain yogurt in a sieve lined with cheese cloth overnight to get the 4 ounces called for in the recipe.

The book had never failed me until last week when I wanted to swap in the wild Maine blueberries in my freezer for the larger cultivated ones called for in my favorite scone recipe. But all blueberries are treated the same in “The Substitution Bible.”

That is simply not the way the blueberry world works.

Maine has a longstanding tradition of harvesting lowbush wild blueberries from the barrens in the northern part of the state. The fruit is known throughout the state to be berry small, berry juicy and berry flavorful. These tiny, tender berries don’t travel well fresh and therefore 90 percent of the crop is frozen at the height of the harvest right around now before they are shipped to freezer cases all over the United States. In the past few years, the national blueberry industry’s efforts to freeze cultivated blueberries has cut into the wild blueberry’s ability to corner the frozen market, leading to Maine blueberry gluts and prices falling to the lowest levels harvesters have seen in three decades.

If you care about Maine wild blueberries, fresh locally in August or frozen year-round, the green kitchen thing to do to help sustain the local harvesters in future years is to use them as much as possible now. Given how tasty they are, it’s not a tough assignment. But how?

Chef Ron Adams, chief operations officer at the Maine Farm and Sea Cooperative and a consultant with the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, works with school districts in 28 states that last year purchased 2.3 million pounds of wild Maine blueberries through the USDA Commodity Foods Program. School lunch programs see wild berries as a bonus because tests show that there are 25 percent more wild blueberries than highbush cultivated ones per pound. Since the USDA considers a serving to be a ½ cup serving, a volume measurement, you get more berries for your buck. “This gives [wild blueberries] a great price advantage over other fruits schools can buy,” Adams said. Most schools put them on the salad bar, include them in smoothies or make savory condiments like dipping sauces or fruit salsa to accompany main courses.

Many local bakers use wild Maine blueberries exclusively. Abby Snell of Snell Family Farm in Buxton makes jam and bakes pies, cakes, muffins and wild blueberry cupcakes with lemon frosting. She folds frozen berries into batters and doesn’t experience much berry juice bleeding into the batter around them. Sometimes she’ll work with fresh if those quarts haven’t flown off the farm stand’s shelves. But whether she uses fresh or frozen, Snell’s recipes are purpose-built for wild blueberries.

So, too, is the recipe for the thousands of blueberry pies Stacy Begin sells annually at her Two Fat Cats Bakery locations in Portland and South Portland.

“When we bought the bakery, the recipe for our pie was on its website. We caught some heat from folks who assumed it would work fine with the bigger, highbush berries. But it doesn’t,” said Begin, who finds wild ones sweeter and juicier so recipes using them require both less sugar and more thickener to ensure the berries will gel in pies or jams. The amount of sugar added depends upon taste, but both Begin and Snell agree that wild blueberries require between 20 and 25 percent more thickener by weight, preferably tapioca flour, than their fatter cousins do to set a pie filling sturdy enough to slice.

If you want to include wild berries in favorite recipes “from away,” Begin says to be ready to experiment to get comparable finished products. “What’s the worst thing that can happen? You’ll have to eat your mistakes,” she said.

Bakers from away understand that experimentation well. Joanne Chang, owner of the Flour Bakeries sprinkled throughout the Boston area, says wild berries are best featured on their own in cakes and muffins where their explosive flavor can be tasted one distinct berry at a time. “They tend to get a little tough and leathery in pies and cobblers,” said Chang, so she mixes them with other fruits in pies.

Stella Parks, a Kentucky-based pastry chef and author of “BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts,” loves wild blueberries in recipes that are all about the juice, such as jam, sorbet, ice cream and curd because their juice is so flavorful and concentrated. “And I often use them as part of a blend when working with ‘regular’ blueberries to help boost the overall flavor,” Parks said. “I’m not super keen about using them as a 1:1 swap in many recipes, simply because the higher proportion of skin can make them a little too fibrous. But swapping out 25 percent (by weight) in a recipe can provide huge gains in flavor.”

The magic number for using frozen wild blueberries in recipes developed for the fresh blueberries you can find in the produce aisle is somewhere around 25. You can substitute 25 percent more frozen without changing the recipe. But if you’re going full bore on the wild ones, remember that there are 25 percent more volume of berries per pound and know that 20-25 percent more thickener is needed to properly set the finished product.


CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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