More Articles


The Humble Blueberry

Not so humble in Northeastern Ontario

This Sudbury native, chef, and foodie shows that there is more to the humble lowbush blueberry than traditional pies and muffins.



The box at the back door was a giveaway. Over the edge, I could see the top of a stack of empty ice cream containers, cans of bug spray and sunscreen, a foam kneepad or two, and the brim of a floppy hat.

I saw blueberry picking in my very near future.

My mother spent a number of days each summer during blueberry season, kneeling amongst the low-lying bushes in her family’s “secret spots,” filling as many containers as her knees and back would allow. My brother and I loved the eventual outcome of fresh blueberry pies, tarts, and muffins, as well as the handfuls of fresh berries we would sneak when we thought no one was looking.

On each outing, she would show us how to pull only the berries from the bushes, while leaving the leafy greens and under-ripe berries untouched to produce another dayall so we could go home with a “clean” pailful. At the time, all we could think about was how quickly we could fill those pails. And of course, pie.

The Humble Blueberry

Lowbush wild blueberries, recognizable by their smaller size and sweetly intense flavour, grow in abundance in the Northeast due to our naturally acidic soil, cooler climate, and clear, running waters. Parts of our landscape are fortunate to be painted with sprawling patches of blueberry bushes along highways, side roads, and backcountry regionsproducing up to 4,000 pounds an acre.

In the heat of July and August, visitors are thrilled to be guided by locals to the best berry picking “hotspots.” If you’d rather avoid the toil and trouble of picking them yourself amongst the bushes, baskets of berries can easily be purchased at farmers markets and roadside stands.  

Stepping Outside the Box (or Basket)

Local chefs and restaurants are also eager buyers - gravitating to areas where they can be surrounded by natural, local ingredients that inspire them. Stepping outside your door to gather ingredients that have been naturally provided by the earth time and time again is often the first step in a local recipe’s inception.

To bite into a tiny, bright blue, wild blueberry that has grown slowly into its indigo colour is a luxury for any palate. Now a chef myself, I taste the sweetness and imagine what I can blend it with in my kitchen or pantry to present its fresh flavour in a new way, while still honouring its natural beauty.

Besides the traditional seasonal fare of blueberry muffins, pies, and pancakes, I have experimented with adding wild blueberries to salads, sauces, and even classic marinades to add a unique style of sweet balance to the acidic base. I will admit that I have also been known to sneak blueberries into a classic cocktail recipe from time to time! Although, there is nothing more delicious and natural than eating them fresh and slightly dewy, right from the plant.

Seared Venison Steaks With Blueberry-Mushroom Sauce

Serves: 4

Marinade

  • 1 pint wild blueberries – divided
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh marjoram
  • 1 tsp coarse black pepper
  • 1 cup port
  • ½ tsp salt

Mushroom Sauce

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ cup shallots, minced
  • 2 cups assorted, dehydrated mushrooms (rehydrate in hot water, reserve remaining liquid)
  • ¼ cup fresh thyme leaves
  • ¼ cup fresh marjoram leaves
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • ½ tsp coarse black pepper
  • 2/3 cup of mushroom liquid

Steaks

  • 4 venison sirloin steaks
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Marinade: Mash ½ cup of blueberries in a bowl with a fork. Add salt, pepper, and port. Pour marinade over top of steaks in a glass or ceramic container. Place in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Remove at least 1 hour before cooking.  Remove steaks from marinade and pat dry with paper towel. Allow the meat to come to room temperature. Discard marinade.

Mushroom Sauce: In a large skillet over high heat, add oil and chopped shallots. Sauté for 2-3 minutes until fragrant, then add mushrooms. Sauté the mixture for another 3 minutes until mushrooms begin to brown. Spoon mushroom mixture from the pan into a waiting bowl. Add red wine and scrape the pan to deglaze. Add remaining fresh blueberries, reserved mushroom liquid, thyme, and marjoram. Cook until most of the liquid is incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and stir in waiting mushroom mixture. Set sauce aside for now.

Steaks: Preheat a cast iron pan over high heat. Rub olive oil on each side, and season well with salt and pepper. Sear for roughly 3 minutes on each side to medium rare. Remove steaks from the pan, tent with foil, and allow to rest for 7 – 10 minutes. While waiting, re-heat the mushroom sauce over medium-low, stirring occasionally.

To serve, slice the steaks on a diagonal, top with sauce and sprinkle with salt. Serve with a side of starchy potatoes to soak up your berry-licious sauce.

Blueberry Basil Gin & Tonic

  • 1 piece lemon rind
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil, torn
  • 1 tbsp wild blueberries
  • 1 oz Tanqueray gin
  • 1 oz (lemon) tonic water

In a glass, muddle blueberries, lemon rind and basil. Add ice, gin, and tonic. Stir to combine.

Featured articles