If you ever pick up everything, on a whim like we did, and decide to move to the Pacific Northwest, do it in summertime when the days are long and light, the sky and water brilliantly blue, and berries hang heavy in brilliant dots of purple, black, red and pink from hedges and briars along roadsides and paths.
Berries, both wild and cultivated, grow well here. On summer mornings when we walk from home along the path to my son's school, we pick trailing blackberries whose berries taste of sweet and tart, with notes that remind me of cotton candy. In the afternoon, we pick saskatoons from huge bushes that reach fifteen or twenty feet high, their branches dripping with the purple, seedy sweet fruit. Just yesterday, while hiking with our friends, we stumbled upon thimbleberry, with its raspberry-like sweetness and velvet texture, salmonberry and Oregon grape.
Just as wild berries do well here, so, too, do cultivated berries. The other day, we put off the afternoon's work, hopped on our bikes and rode a few miles through the countryside to an organic blueberry farm whose bushes brimmed over with such brilliantly ripe berries that we picked a twelve-pound bucket in no time. We ate them by the handful, in salads, and I froze what I knew wouldn't keep. I also made these whole grain blueberry muffins, and after tweaking the recipe a handful of times, I wanted to share them with you.
Berries in general, and blueberries in particular, pack quite punch of antioxidant capacity. Cultivated blueberries rank 4669 on the ORAC scale, a scale that determines antioxidant capacity of different foods, while wild blueberries rank a whopping 9621. Higher scores indicate a higher antioxidant capacity. For comparison's sake, spinach comes in at about 1200 and zucchini at 176.
It's this antioxidant capacity that likely contributes to measurable beneficial effects blueberry contributes to health. I can only hope that those benefits help to temper the sugar in my muffin recipe below.
Blueberries are packed with phytonutrients like anthocyanins, flavonols like quercetin and phenols like reservatrol, the same antioxidant thought to give red wine its benefits.
Einkorn and Sprouted Spelt Flours
Maybe its romanticism, but I favor baking with heritage grains: spelt and emmer, einkorn and heritage varieties of wheat. Their flavor, particularly in einkorn (one of the first domesticated varieties of wheat), is richer and more complex than many of the modern varieties, leading to breads and muffins with better overall flavor.
Older varieties of wheat, like einkorn, are also relatively more nutritious than modern varieties of wheat, boasting more antioxidants, like beta carotene, and higher protein content. (You can read more about them here.)
Sifting, Souring, Soaking or Sprouting Your Grains and Flours
All grains, nuts, seeds and pulses contain antinutrients like food phytate that bind of minerals, and prevent their full absorption, but when you process these foods first using time-honored techniques, those minerals which are otherwise bound become more bioavailable.
Sprouting grains (you can learn how to do it yourself here) deactivates antinutrients, making the minerals they contain more bioavailable. Sour leavening effects the same goal, with the added benefit of reduced glycemic load and increased B vitamins like folate. When foods are prepared with traditional techniques, like these, they're more nutritious.
As the germ and bran are largely removed through sifting in all-purpose and high-extraction flours, these do not need to be soaked, soured or sprouted.
Using High-Extraction and Sprouted Flours
Sprouted flours can be gummy when used exclusively, so I like to blend them with high-extraction flours so that my baked goods, like these whole grain blueberry muffins, yield the best results.
Sprouted flours are a solid choice for recipes that do not allow for a long rise period. Biscuits, muffins, quick breads and cookies do well with sprouted flour. High-extraction flours can be used for quick breads, too, but I like to use them as a blending flour with other whole-grain flours either sprouted, or freshly ground for sourdough bread.