Friday, September 3, 2010
I feel privileged to have grown up in a country where the nature is clean and where you can freely walk into any forest and pick fresh, wild blueberries (and other wild berries and mushrooms) as much as you like. Probably for that reason, I have never been a big fan of the large, cultivated blueberries - they must be quite distant relatives with their wild cousins. Bilberries (vaccinium myrtillus, also known as wild blueberries) are smaller in size, the color is darker blue, the skin is soft, and the berries are juicy and sweet.

 Picture borrowed from Suomen Luonto. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost all my blueberry pictures.

Bilberries and blueberries - like other berries in the vaccinum family, such as cranberries and lingonberries - contain a mixture of different polyphenols. The most important phonyphenol group in blueberries are anthocyanins, which are found in the blue pigment (wild blueberries/bilberries contain over 500 mg/100 g of anthocyanins, while the cultivated blueberries contain a significantly smaller amount, under 200 mg/100 g).

Bilberries have been used in European folk medicine for nearly 1000 years to prevent and treat various diseases. There is limited demographic research available regarding the effect of berries in preventing diseases or reducing risk factors, and most scientific research on bilberries and blueberries can be found on the antioxidant effects, benefits to eye health and cardiovascular health. Based on research and common experience, bilberries and blueberries have been found to promote at least

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Gastrointestinal health
  • Urinary tract health
  • Brain health
  • Eye health (by slowing down visual loss and preventing or delaying age related eye problems. They are also believed to improve night vision.)
Bilberries and blueberries are anti-inflammatory and neutralize free radicals in the body, which can affect disease and aging. They boost your natural immune system, and research has shown that they can reduce the risk of cancer, most significantly colon cancer. Bilberries and blueberries, and specially bilberry leaves, have also been found to be beneficial for people with diabetes.

My dad's favorite pastime during the month of August is spending afternoons in the forest picking bilberries. Since he has always worked with people, in a highly academic field where you use your brain more than your body, he says going to the quiet forest, picking berries and getting some exercise is the most relaxing thing he can imagine. This year has been an exceptionally good bilberry year in the area where my parents live, and together with my mom, he has picked over 200 kg (440 lbs) bilberries this year. They have given some away to people who are too old or weak to pick wild berries themselves; but most of them have been frozen and are waiting to be enjoyed during the long winter. I also believe there are numerous bottles of homemade bilberry juice and jam sitting on the shelves in their basement. ;)

....And now to breakfast: 

This morning, I looked into my fruit bowl and saw a few bananas that were starting to get brown...

The first thing I associated them with? Blueberry-banana bread! The fact that we had just run out of mysli, oatmeal and most other breakfast ingredients - and that it was much too cold for a smoothie - only convinced me further (not that I needed much convincing, but still ;)).

Although I visit my parents quite often, I still live an international flight away, and the airline weight restrictions set some limits to how many boxes of berries I can carry with me - therefore, I usually cherish the bilberries I have, and only eat them as they are, straight out of the freezer. Sometimes, I will add them to smoothies, mix them with vanilla soy milk, and will often use them as a topping on my morning cereal, porridge or oatmeal. I rarely use them for baking. Although I never buy cultivated blueberries to eat "raw", I occasionally buy them to use for baking, since I feel the taste is more similar in baked goods. Today, however, I found a small box of bilberries in my freezer that said "Bilberries, 2009". Since I had just brought back a few boxes of bilberries from this year and knew there would be more to come, I justified using this older box for baking.

Blueberry Banana Bread
  • 2 c spelt flour OR whole wheat flour (or 1 c regular flour and 1 c whole wheat)
  • 1 1/4 c blueberries
  • 1/4 c maple syrup
  • 1/2 c unrefined sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 very ripe bananas
  • 1/2 c silken tofu OR soy yoghurt (vanilla, blueberry or plain will work fine)
  • 4-5 tbsp canola oil
Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F).

Mix the dry ingredients. Puree or mash the banana and tofu, and mix together with maple syrup, vanilla and oil. Combine with the dry ingredients, and mix well (do not overmix). Fold in the blueberries.

Pour the batter into a greased, floured bread form, and bake until it starts to pull out from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean - about one hour.

Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, and move onto a wire rack to cool completely.

I currenly don't have a bread pan of the right size, so I decided to turn this into muffins instead. If you make muffins, you can reduce the time in the oven a little - I think mine were out after 45 minutes or so.

Do you ever pick wild berries, grow any berries yourself, or go to a farm to pick them? What is your favorite berry?
posted by Seglare at Friday, September 03, 2010 | Permalink |


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