Blueberry Reinvented

Of the Berry Blue

In the 2005 Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads, Toronto-based food writer and historian Sylvia Lovegren included a compact history of the green peppercorn phenomenon (pp. 392-393), with a sample recipe, for duck.

She writes that a Malaysian perfected canning and freezing the green berry, long known in the Malagasy Republic (Madagascar), whence it sprang to France and adjacent lands.

Britain and the United States then took it up. Fashionable restaurants lead the way, but the general culinary scene soon picked it up.

The fashion had subsided even by 2005, but green peppercorns are still a stand-by in the spices and condiments larder.

The product is often blended with other ingredients. It can make a sauce for poultry, other meat, or vegan dishes. Green peppercorn mustard is widely used.

As noted by Lovegren, British food writer Elizabeth David played a definite role in popularizing the product. David’s 1970 Spices, Salt & Aromatics in the English Kitchen displays her enthusiasm for the newly arriving tins of green peppercorn. At p. 257:

It is the French who launched what is virtually a new spice. This is called “poivre vert”  and is exactly what it says it is: pepper which is green in both senses – green because it is the unripe, fresh peppercorn, and green in colour.  Soft as a berry … it can be mashed to a paste in a moment, and so has great potentialities for spicing sauces and butter … . Exported from Madagascar and packed in tins or sealed glass jars, several brands of “poivre vert”  have now reached the English market.

Some today regard her as a crusty bastion of the old school. She was everything but – a visionary to the max, while guarding the best of the past.

This bottle of green peppercorns is from Epicureal, a Spanish brand, as listed in the Qualifirst site:

I was thinking of David and little green peppercorns when contemplating the anything but little, indigo berries you see below:

 

 

These are giant blueberries, of the fashion this summer in Canada. I recall being somewhat shocked when first contemplating their dimensions. Having grown up in Quebec with its matchless wild blueberries, nothing could seem more different.

The Quebec product is almost BB-size with an intense flavour, not always sweet, that is at its best in jam or pies, or with ice cream.

The new grape-size blueberries are by contrast ideal for fresh eating. The taste is quite similar to the wild berry, or close enough, and more consistent.

Quebec blueberries, bleuets in Quebec parlance, are the North American type now farm-raised in many places. The wild product also is “managed”, on stands that remain natural enough so the product can be termed wild on the label.

Farm-raised berries have gotten larger, but the giant genre seems a quantum leap from any blueberry in the market until recently.

As noted, the taste is remarkably good. When farm-raised berries first appeared their flavour left something to be desired, but growers have improved the taste since. As the weather is still warm in North America, the farm article tends to be at its best, as well.

I won’t elucidate the blueberry much, as it is easy to glean with a few keystrokes. Suffice to say there are the low bush (traditional) and high bush (cultivated) types.

Both are of the genus Vaccinium. The farm types are not genetically modified, but have been developed as a process of natural selection.

When sojourning in France in recent years, and on our many trips to England, I never recall seeing the North American blueberry, maybe once or twice as an expensive import.

Locally there were berries of different names, bilberry for example, that were good but different in taste. Bilberry is a related species. I understand though the North American blueberry is being raised currently in the UK.*

I’d have thought the equable climate – usually – at least in the south, was ideal for such culture.

Will brawny blueberries survive as a permanent part of the culinary scene? I think so. They are not quite new, having come onto market in the last 7 or 8 years.** They are grown in different parts of the U.S. and now beyond – the ones shown are from Mexico.

But relatively speaking, it’s a new thing and berry blue, I greet you at the beginning of a great career.

*See my additional remarks in Comments.

**For those interested to check further, a lot of the, um, spade work was done at University of Georgia. The Peach State does a good turn in blueberries as well.

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Blueberry Reinvented”

  1. Just to add, continued reading shows the highbush blueberry is cultivated now in numerous parts of Europe, not just the UK. I never saw this type in France, except once or twice imported, I think from Chile, but some other EU nations favour it. Thus it exists in some places side by side with a native bilberry (which can go by many names, including blueberry itself).

    The blueberry seems on the rise internationally due to its apparent antioxidant properties and of course good flavour. I believe in North America, and possibly beyond today, the taste was spread partly through the popularity of the blueberry muffin. I don’t think blueberry jam explains it, the taste can be quite intense and the type seems less popular than strawberry and other classic types. Same for blueberry pie.

    Reply
  2. I’m going to put in a pitch for growing blueberries. They are native to a lot of North America and are very easy to grow, and provide a lot of benefits to native species.

    They have been extensively hybridized so that varieties can be grown anywhere from small containers or even as hedges.

    The flowers aren’t showy but they emerge early enough in the spring to be welcome. The fruiting stage attracts lots of birds if you don’t want to net them for your own harvest. And the bright fall foliage is very nice in a semi-formal garden.

    They’re much lower maintenance than a lot of berries like strawberries or raspberries. I have a small patch and barely get a handful, but I’m really glad I planted them

    Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: