Let’s clear one thing up right away before you give these Blueberry Ricotta Cornmeal Muffins a try.
If you have a choice between high-bush blueberries (the big, bloated ones) or cultivated wild (the small ones), always always choose wild.
And I’m not just saying that because I live in the one corner of the planet where this abundant (but surprisingly fussy) berry grows.
They really do have more flavor. They do, in fact, taste like blueberries – which the larger berries only hint at. Wild blueberry fields develop a variety of plant types which lead to variations in flavor and size that are (in my unbiased opinion) more interesting.
Sure, high-bush berries are less work. You don’t risk sunburn, bug-bites or a sore back from gathering them. And you can find them at the occasional U-pick operation.
Wild blueberries? You need to know someone with berries on their property, or be able to recognize them in the wild. Or, much more simply, buy them either direct from the producers or at the grocery store. Fortunately, they freeze beautifully so are available frozen year round.
(If you ever visit Atlantic Canada, Quebec or Maine in late summer and see cars stopped along the side of the highway with people searching through the grass, they aren’t looking for their keys. They are foraging for blueberries.)
What are cultivated wild blueberries?
There’s sometimes confusion about the seeming contradiction between the words ‘cultivated’ and ‘wild’. How can something that is cultivated be considered wild?
It’s not a scam.Here are the facts:
You cannot buy low-bush blueberries and plant them on your property. You have to find a property that has them, growing wild.
If you are looking for rural properties around here, you’ll notice that the presence of blueberries on the land is a selling feature.
Wild blueberries thrive in highly acidic soil, often in pockets of land that are not ideal for farming other crops.
Once you find them, you can begin the time-consuming process of ‘cultivating’ them. This means trying to create conditions that are favorable and encourage the blueberry plants to spread their rhizomes under the soil so that more plants will pop up.
So the berries are cultivated in as much as the growers try to establish the conditions that will allow the wild berries to thrive.
This is no marketing gimmick. These are, in truth, wild berries.
Are wild blueberries organic?
Commercial blueberry growers spray fields at various times in the season to minimize infestations and maximize yields.
So ‘wild’ blueberries do not equal ‘organic’ blueberries.
It is possible to find commercially available cultivated wild organic blueberries. The blueberry fields are developed in the same ways, but managed differently from the non-organic fields.
Blueberry farmers or growers?
While some farmers may have blueberries on their properties, you will usually hear of blueberry producers referred to as ‘growers’. Wild blueberries are not farmed in the traditional sense because they are an independent plant that cannot be grown where it does not already occur naturally.
Because wild blueberries grow in conditions that are not generally suitable for other types of crops, many farmers may not want to encourage them to spread on their properties.
Landowners with small acreages of blueberries cannot always afford the investment of cultivating the berries on their properties. Larger producers will often undertake the work of developing, managing and harvesting the smaller areas with a share of the profits going to the owner.
Let’s make some blueberry muffins!
Blueberries are a quintessential feature of summer in the Maritimes, and there a gazillion sweet and savory recipes developed around them.
The Blueberry Ricotta Cornmeal Muffins make use of the traditional combination of the berries and cornmeal. The streusel also contains maple syrup, another regional specialty that forms a perfect complement to the fruit.
Ricotta adds extra nutrition and texture, and helps keep the muffins from drying out.
Bake up a batch, and if you have a little one in your life (or are just feeling nostalgic for a simpler time), find a copy of Blueberries for Sal, or listen to this lively version with musical accompaniment.
- 1-1/4 cup / 310 ml all-purpose flour
- 1-1/4 cup / 310 ml whole wheat flour
- ½ cup / 125 ml cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon / 5 ml baking powder
- 1 teaspoon / 5 ml baking soda
- 1 teaspoon / 5 ml salt
- ¾ cup / 185 ml sugar
- 1 cup / 250 ml ricotta cheese
- ¼ cup / 60 ml olive oil
- ½ cup / 125 ml milk
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1-1/4 cup / 290 ml fresh or frozen blueberries
- ⅓ cup / 80 ml whole wheat flour
- ⅓ cup / 80 ml brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons / 30 ml butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons / 30 ml maple syrup (see note)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F / 190 degrees C.
- Lightly grease 18 muffin cups, or line with paper cups.
- In large mixing bowl, combine all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Stir until thoroughly mixed.
- In separate bowl, beat together ricotta cheese, olive oil, milk and eggs until smooth.
- In small bowl, make the crumble by stirring together the whole wheat flour, brown sugar, butter and maple syrup. The mixture will be wet rather than crumbly.
- Add ricotta mixture to flour and stir gently just until there are just a few streaks of flour left. Add blueberries and fold in gently just until the flour is mixed and blueberries are evenly distributed. The batter will be very stiff.
- Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins, filling cups ¾ full and drop 1-2 teaspoons / 5-10 ml of the crumble topping on top.
- Bake muffins for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.
- Let cool in pan for 5 mins, then turn out and cool on wire rack.
If you don't have maple syrup for the crumble, you can substitute honey or simply omit it. If omitted, the crumble will be more crumbly. The maple syrup creates a slightly sticky finish that is very tasty.