Uncultivated taste and manners. That's what you can expect from a wild Maine blueberry. The tiny wild, blueberries native to Maine and Eastern Canada have a sharper, more distinct sweet and tart flavor when compared with cultivated blueberries grown in other parts of the country. And they are wild: grown and nourished with whatever sun and rain nature dishes out that season.
The lowbush, wild blueberry (vaccinium augustifolium) thrives in the glacial soils and northern climate of Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. Called blueberry barrens, these "fields" look like colorful moonscapes: acres of dense bushes 6-12" high dotted with granite boulders left by the retreating glacier 11,000 years ago. In spring the new leaves make a lush green carpet that takes on a distinctly blue-ish cast as the berries ripen to maturity in August. In the fall the leaves turn a brilliant scarlet that glows like fire in the waning afternoon light.
Nervous Nellie's Jams and Jellies is fortunate to have been born in Deer Isle, Maine with ready access to the state's number 1 agricultural product: the wild, Maine blueberry. Our product line includes Wild Maine Blueberry Preserves (for the purists), Blue Razz Conserve, which is a very congenial mix of blueberries and raspberries, and Blueberry Ginger Conserve, made with crystallized ginger. Our newest concoction is Wild Maine Blueberry Chutney. The berries are cooked with a spiced vinegar-ours is a white vinegar that steeps overnight with an infusion of whole peppercorns, cinnamon stick and grated ginger root. To this savory berry mix, we add molasses, mustard, cumin and white wine.
Wild Maine Blueberry Chutney is delicious with duck or pork. Chef Jaci Hancock in Blue Hill, Maine makes a glaze for oven-roasted pork tenderloin by mixing it with a little cream and white wine. It is also wonderful with goat cheese or cream cheese on crackers or in a savory cheese pie.
We have learned that one of the vagaries of making jam with wild berries is Mother Nature. She is the farmer, deciding when and whether or not to rain, to be cloudy and foggy for days or to shine her sun. The "crop" varies each year accordingly. A good snowpack this winter and plenty of groundwater, coupled with lots of sunny days, gave the berries got an excellent start this spring. But a drought this summer has yielded smaller berries than usual. So, the flavor is nicely concentrated, but the berries are less acidic, possibly requiring adaptations to our recipe to ensure a good set.
Have you ever made blueberry jam that didn't set? We have. That is one of the challenges of working with wild blueberries. But we wouldn't trade it for the blander taste and ho-hum predictability of a cultivated crop anyday. There is literally no taste on earth like the wild Maine blueberry.