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.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the mirtillo audio file [mp3].
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