One of the high spots of the year for me is the arrival of the first blueberries from Horsham. The season may be short – eight weeks or so – but it is packed with six varieties of blueberries, each with their own special flavour and becoming sweeter as the summer progresses.
Our Horsham blueberries are grown on fertile clay soil in Lower Beeding by Bob Hewitt of Selehurst Gardens (better known to us as Blueberry Bob). Over the years he has transformed a relatively small area into an extremely productive site and the weather this year has helped to improve this productivity. Last year the long, early Summer temperatures took their toll on the blueberry plants and the season finished before August was out.
I can recall my first tasting of a Blueberry Bob berry so vividly. The sweet, flavoursome taste and amazing juiciness brought a huge grin to my face. “This is heaven” I thought as I dived back into the punnet! Unsurprisingly, as we encourage people at our markets to taste the berries I have learnt that my reaction was not unique to me! Collectively us “lovers of blueberries from Bob” could be deemed to be “people who know what they like”, but we think we fall into the category of having a “well-developed palette” as these blueberries are used by the Michelin 1 chef, Tom Kemble, at South Lodge in Lower Beeding. I rest our case!
We have always been fascinated by these blueberries and why they can sell so well, at double the price, to those in London but are not generally appreciated in their home territory of Sussex. So we ran a taste test at Horsham Market a few years ago. We bought some organic blueberries from Waitrose – variety Duke and from Poland. We had some Duke variety from Blueberry Bob on our stall at the same time. The Waitrose blueberries were more expensive (a little aside, but important to us). Customers and passers-by were invited to taste one of each and to provide a comparison. The facial expressions presented us with the best reactions. The Polish blueberries were sharp and tasteless and usually generated a grimace. Blueberry Bob’s Duke blueberries mostly generated a satisfactory smile (and often a purchase – a double win!).
Whilst initially I was sold on these blueberries by their taste, I soon found out their health benefits – for young and old. My grand-daughter was weaned on these blueberries and was declared the healthiest baby seen by the doctor for a long time at one of her early progress appointments.
Blueberries are considered a superfood today but have been used for their medicinal properties for centuries. American Indians used blueberry leaves as a tonic for colicky babies and in Europe the fruit itself was used to cure diarrhoea, dysentery and scurvy as well as circulatory problems and eye diseases. In particular, blueberries were used to treat diabetic retinopathy (an eye disease associated with diabetes) and some physicians still use it as part of treatments.
Top researchers, Béliveau and Gingras, were particularly interested in this traditional use of blueberries for diabetic retinopathies as the latter are caused by “uncontrolled angiogenesis” in blood vessels, a phenomenon which is instrumental in the growth of cancer tumours. Their research suggests that molecules known as anthocyanidins (found abundantly in blueberries) can be responsible for the anti-angiogenic effects of these berries and slow the growth of tumours. Angiogenesis is a process whereby the cancer tumours, which require food and oxygen to grow, trigger chemical signals to attract the cells of blood vessels located nearby. These blood vessels react by clearing a path to the tumour by dissolving the surrounding tissue and forming a new blood vessel thus facilitating the flow of food and oxygen to the tumour.
Research has determined that benefits of blueberries include improvement of cognitive health (this has to be a subject of a future blog as it is quite technical, but associated with the antioxidant content acting as a “de-rusting agent”), prevents urinary tract infection occurring, helps anti-ageing and improves skin, heart and eyes through its mineral and vitamin content.
These guys are so under-estimated because we have them throughout the year. But, the greatest benefit will be achieved from the farm fresh ones that are produced locally and are available on our website.