Here's a riddle for you. Which blue American berry is not a berry? The blueberry. Why? Because it's a false berry. In botanical lingo, the blueberry is actually an epigynous berry, which is an accessory fruit that doesn't derive from a plant's ovary, and is therefore not a real berry. But who cares about such scientific nitpicking when blueberries are so good for you? The native North American favourite may only have been cultivated for around a century, but in the last few years it has been elevated to superfood status. Blueberries contain an abundance of calcium, manganese, fibre and vitamins B6, C and K. But it's the antioxidants, phytochemicals and anthocyanin in blueberries, which are believed to ward off diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's, that are establishing the blueberry as one of the world's healthiest foods.
The tiny fruit, when ripe, are a deep indigo blue, round and with a little crown at the end, rather like a miniature pomegranate. Indeed, some American Indians held the blueberry in reverence because they saw its crown as a five pointed star, a sacred gift from the great spirit to their hungry offspring. When blueberries are ready to eat, they possess a sweet flavour, but can be quite acidic depending upon the environment in which they were cultivated - the hotter the climate the sweeter the blueberry. The two most common species of blueberry are the cultivated highbush, which have an intense colour, and the wild lowbush species. Lowbush blueberry plants are able to tolerate fire, and have been known to regenerate swiftly and thrive following forest fires. A superfruit indeed.
To kick-start your day, fresh blueberries can be added to almost any breakfast cereal. They can bring a zing to muesli or porridge oats but I recommend sprinkling a handful of blueberries into a bowl of All-Bran and mixing it with natural yoghurt, especially if you find eating the high-fibre cereal about as appealing as chewing on garden mulch. Naturally, fresh blueberries are great for snacking on between meals, but cooked blueberries are equally as tasty, even if they do lose a few key nutrients in the cooking process.
You can eliminate the acidity of blueberries by boiling them for a few minutes in sugared water to make a delicious compote. When heated, blueberries release reservoirs of colourful juice, adding moisture to all manner of sweet recipes, such as muffins and cheesecakes. But they are also ideal with gamy meats such as duck, goose or pheasant. Splash any such bird with balsamic vinegar and roast slowly. Meanwhile, simmer a large handful of garlic cloves with butter, honey, thyme and water until it reduces and the garlic turns brown. Then sautee around two cups of blueberries with butter, minced shallots and vinegar until soft and dewy. Drizzle the garlic and blueberry sauces over the cooked bird for a deliciously sweet and savoury dish - simple, straightforward and absolutely riddle-free.