Who doesn’t love the tiny, intensely sweet and nutritious Maine low bush wild blueberry? The wild blueberry, (Vaccinium angustifolium Ait.), is native to northern New England and Atlantic Canada. In Maine, this crop is not planted but inhabits large fields on mountaintops and in glacial outwash plains which formed 10,000 years ago.
The wild blueberry was an important part of the Wabanaki native people’s diet, who both burn-pruned and harvested the fields. Today’s production methods are the same. Wild blueberries are grown in a two-year agricultural cycle that alternates between a “prune year” and a “harvest year.”
Following the harvest in August, plants are pruned to the ground by mowing or burning. This makes the entire year after harvest, a vegetative year, where stems, leaves, and buds develop. In the second year, plants bloom and produce blueberries. Wild blueberry farmers typically divide their acreage equally between the two cycles in order to harvest a crop every year.
After the English settlers arrived to the coast of Maine in the 1600’s, the wild blueberry fields were considered public, and picking them was a public privilege. During the Civil War, wild blueberries were sent by sea to the Union Army and in 1886, the berries were first canned. By the early 1900’s more modern agricultural practices were adopted. Wild blueberry fields were “purchased”, and the yield increased with the advent of freezing, fertilizing, herbicides, field leveling, pollination, and mechanical harvesting.
Today consumers can enjoy the wild blueberry all year round, as a majority of the crop is frozen when the tiny blue berry is first harvested. The antioxidant king, wild blueberries are jam-packed with anthocyanins, which give them their deep purplish color. Research has shown that wild blueberries fight inflammation in humans, help to improve brain health, and contribute to cardiovascular health.
An important part of a seasonal and local diet, the wild blueberry can be used both in sweet (dessert) and savory recipes. In addition to the many delicious baked goods, we enjoy wild blueberries in smoothies and salads, made in chutney, ketchup and salsa, and as a marinade for meat and veggies, and salad dressings.
The recipe for Wild Blueberry Cheesecake Bars is one from my archives, and is simple to prepare and easy to eat. A rich cookie crust is covered with a wild blueberry infused cheesecake topping and baked. Once the cookie crust has cooled and set up, they are a snap to cut. There are many different variation options, depending upon the cookie crust. We like chocolate cookies for the base, gingersnaps are tasty too. Gluten free? No problem. Use a gluten free cookie or nuts for a crust.
Serve Wild Blueberry Cheesecake Bars for a quick morning snack, pack them into the lunchbox, or take a tin to a picnic. For a festive and elegant dessert, top these squares with a wild blueberry topping and a dollop of whipped cream. When prepared with Maine cheese, butter and eggs, these confections are the perfect way to support local agriculture and your health.
WILD BLUEBERRY CHEESECAKE BARS
- 2 cups cookie crumbs I like to use chocolate
- 6 tablespoons Melted butter
- 16 ounces goat cheese or cream cheese at room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup frozen wild Maine blueberries dusted with 2 tablespoons flour
- Assembleingredients and tools.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- inch x 13-inch pan.
- In the bowl of your food processor or mixer, combine the cookie crumbs and melted butter.
- Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan.
- Without washing the mixer, add the goat cheese or cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, eggs and grated nutmeg to the bowl. Mix until well combined.
- In a small bowl, dust the wild blueberries with 2 tablespoons flour
- Fold the wild blueberries into the batter.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake until the cheesecake is just set, about 35 – 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan before cutting into bars.
- If desired, dust the tops with powdered sugar before serving.