Lithuanians Love Blueberries

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For Lithuanians, these anti-oxidant-rich berries are known as “melynės”, literally – blueberries. There is a wealth of recipes for blueberry-lovers, including squares, cakes, ice cream and cold soup. Blueberry dumplings (virtiniai) were a favourite in our family as I was growing up, also k nown as “šaltanosiai“, or “cold noses“, because the blueberries colour the pale dough as they cook, and remind us of noses turning blue from the winter cold. Here is one recipe for this version of virtiniai/koldūnai:

Ingredients:
350 g (12 oz.) flour                                  
1 egg
2/3 cup milk                                            
dash salt

Filling:
600 g (21 oz.) blueberries
50 g (2 oz.) breadcrumbs
1 tsp sugar

Topping:
Melted butter, sour cream

Directions:
Sprinkle blueberries with crumbs and sugar.

Add milk to flour in a bowl, add salt and beat in one egg. Roll out dough to 3 mm (1/8 inch) thickness. Cut out rounds of dough using a glass, add filling and fold in half, pressing edges together. Add dumplings to 2 litres of boiling salted water, let them cook for 1-2 minutes after they rise to the top.

Serve with melted butter and sour cream.

But are they really blueberries?

We were surprised to learn that “mėlynės” in Lithuania may not be blueberries.

Discover something new today! Blueberries are a widespread group of perennial flowering plants with blue or purple berries of the genus Vaccinium (family Ericaceae). Vaccinium also includes cranberries, bilberries, huckleberries and Madeira blueberries. Commercial blueberries – both wild (lowbush) and cultivated (highbush) – are all native to North America. The highbush varieties were introduced into Europe during the 1930s. Canada is the leading producer of lowbush blueberries, while the United States produces some 40% of the world supply of highbush blueberries.

Bilberries, sometimes called European blueberries, are a primarily Eurasian species of low-growing shrubs bearing edible, dark blue berries. The species most often referred to is Vaccinium myrtillus, but there are several other closely related species. Bilberries are native to Europe, and are different from North American, although the species are closely related and belong to the same genus, Vaccinium. Bilberry are fruits with a smooth, circular outline at the end opposite the stalk, whereas blueberries retain persistent sepals there, leaving a rough, star-shaped pattern of five flaps. Bilberries grow singly or in pairs rather than in clusters, as blueberries do, and blueberries have more evergreen leaves. Bilberries are dark in colour, and usually appear near black with a slight shade of purple. While blueberry fruit pulp is light green, bilberry is red or purple. The high anthocyanin content may cause staining of the fingers, lips, and tongue.

Bilberries are found in acidic, nutrient-poor soils throughout the temperate and subarctic regions of the world. They are difficult to grow and the fruit is small, so they are seldom cultivated. Fruits are mostly collected from wild plants growing on publicly accessible lands throughout northern and central Europe, where they are plentiful – for example, up to a fifth (17–21%) of the land area of Sweden contains bilberry bushes, where it is called blåbär (lit. “blueberry”, which is a source of confusion with the American blueberry).

Blueberries are in season now in Southern Ontario. They freeze well and can be used at any time of year. A simple jam with some sugar and corn-starch will bring back fond memories of summer!