My first experience of mirtilli occurred one day that I went for a hike on the Alps: I saw the plant, was enchanted by the tiny berries, picked some and tasted them. I remember the outcome of the memorable experience: purple fingers, purple tongue and tiny tart explosions in my mouth. At the first brunch I went to, some time after moving to California to live with my (now) husband, I ate what to me seemed mirtilli on steroids.
Besides being several order of magnitude bigger, the cultivated blueberries I encountered in the US are sweeter and I like them better than their wild Alpine cousins. We planted some bushes in our new garden and a few days ago I offered to my husband our first home-grown ripe mirtillo. This is an Italian word he loves to say aloud: it has indeed a ringing tone to it, which somehow reminds me of beloved Alpine landscapes. I prepare sherbet when blueberries are in season, which makes him sing the word in sheer delight. The recipe I use is adapted from the one in the book Frozen Desserts by Caroline Liddell and Robin Weir.
The word mirtillo derives from mirto, myrtle, which is a totally different plant: it appears that the name transfer occurred because both plants have berries (bacche). Mirto and mirtillo do not share growing environments, since the former is a Mediterranean plant, while the latter is a mountain one. Both, however, are used to make liqueurs: mirto di Sardegna and grappa al mirtillo, respectively.
Not being a connoisseur of alcoholic beverages, I enjoyed mirto as the fragrance that filled the air in Sardinia, along the sea, when I visited many years ago; and I enjoy mirtilli much more often and much closer to home, soon as close as our garden.
This is where I am pinning my hopes.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the mirtillo audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
The local blueberries on the East coast are just coming into their own now. New Jersey is famous for them, but the small wild Maine blues are surprisingly sweet. There is nothing like a fresh blueberry muffin or coffee cake.
Nothing like grappa, either. I've heard, Simona, that it is very, very strong, even for those who are accustomed to serious drinking. Is this true? I can't imagine what it tastes like and I'm too timid to try it.
Posted by: Susan | June 29, 2007 at 08:06 PM
LOL! Mirtilli on steroids? I like that description. I think that's great you're planting this in your garden, too. What a wonderful garden you have!
Posted by: Paz | June 30, 2007 at 05:50 AM
I agree that there is nothing like a fresh blueberry muffin or coffee cake. I went to the site of the National Institute of Grappa and verified that the alcohol content of grappa is minimum 37.5% volume. Grappa from certain areas must have 40% minimum. Grappa al mirtillo tends to have a lower alcohol content, because of the fruit. The site mentioned above addresses your question, Susan, and says that the alcohol content of grappa places it at the same level with brandy.
Paz, I was out in the garden this morning and took a couple of pictures, then added them to a photo album: I hope you'll like them. now I am off to the farmers' market where I will also get my apron.
Posted by: Simona Carini | June 30, 2007 at 09:16 AM
Could you please give me the link to your photo album, again? Thanks!
Posted by: Paz | July 01, 2007 at 05:05 AM
Hi Paz: you can follow the link 'on this page' inside the post or the link Humboldt Garden I just added on the sidebar. I will add more photos as the season progresses.
Posted by: Simona Carini | July 01, 2007 at 08:09 AM
Posted by: Paz | July 01, 2007 at 12:54 PM
Ahhh! So that's what growing blueberries look like. Very nice!
Thanks for posting the link.
Posted by: Paz | July 01, 2007 at 12:56 PM
Where can I buy this liqueur in LOndon?
Posted by: Zee NOble | September 21, 2009 at 01:04 PM
I looked around on the web and this place appears to sell mirto: http://www.olivorestaurants.com/cgi-bin/olivo/olivino.html?name=olivino-welcome
They also have different kinds of grappa, though I could not see any with blueberries.
This is a Sardinian restaurant in London: http://www.tenore-restaurant.co.uk/
They may be able to provide you with useful information.
Posted by: Simona Carini | September 21, 2009 at 09:48 PM