Copyright August 2000 by Leigh Abernathy
Is any fruit named more aptly than the blueberry? It's blue. It's a berry. That's plain enough, isn't it?
With blueberries, there's none of the misleading nomenclature you find in strawberries. STRAWberries? Straw? I don't think so.
Of course, cooked, blueberries are more purple than blue. Okay, so cooked, they're a whole lot more purple than blue. Okay, so cooked, they're purple. But on the bush, they're a glorious, deep blue frosted with white.
This summer my four blueberry bushes produced their little blue hearts out. Every day it was a contest to see who was going to get more berries: the birds or me. (So far, it's a tie--hey, the birds have all day long to pick them. I have to wait until after work!)
Blueberries have a sweet-tart flavor that's one of my favorites. This time of year, when I can pop them in my mouth the second they come off the bush, I eat them mostly fresh (and mostly before I get back up to the house). I love to freeze some, though, and eat them as ice-cold blueberry treats when summer's heat is too much--I especially love to use them to ice down lemonade and other drinks and eat them when the drink is gone.
I'll toss them into pancake batter and muffins, too. Some, I'll sprinkle onto cereal or toss with some cantaloupe for one of my favorite summer fruit salads. The tartness of the blueberry is the perfect accent for the supersweet cantaloupe, each bringing out the best of the other.
Blueberries are one of the easiest fruits to eat, too. There's no peeling or pitting, you just rinse them and they're ready to go; fast food.
The peak season for the blue fruit is May to Mid-August and that's when you'll find the best fresh ones in the store and farmer's markets. You can find frozen, dried and canned blueberries year round in the grocery store. The frozen and canned ones are likely wild berries.
Blueberries are one of the few fruits native to North America, and they still grow wild in Maine and Nova Scotia, where the harvest every year is a celebrated event. The wild berries are smaller, bluer and have a more intense flavor.
Most of the wild berries are frozen, canned or dried--count yourself lucky if you get to eat a fresh one.
What you will find fresh most likely are the domesticated, cultivated varieties. Those are larger, lighter blue and sweeter, and are what I grow in my garden. They make an attractive shrub, covered with white blooms in spring, blue berries in summer and red leaves in fall. If you want to grow fruit, you'll need to plant two varieties, though, because blueberries are not self-pollinators.
The Native Americans along the East Coast introduced the settlers to one of their favorite fruits. They ate the fruit and used other parts of the plants medicinally, to ease childbirth among other things.
They would gather the berries every summer and dry them for use throughout the year. Nutritionally, that was a sound choice. Blueberries are low fat, low calorie (80 in a cup), high fiber (5 grams per cup) nutrient dense fruits that offer a bounty of antioxidants. That blue color comes from primarily from proanthocyanins, which gives them one of the highest antioxidant levels of any fruit or vegetable.
You can pick your own blueberries without growing them. A number of pick-your-own operations grow them (check with your County Extension Agent to find which ones). Ripe berries will be a deep blue frosted with white and will practically fall into your hand when you brush the bush. When selecting berries, look for plump berries with no wrinkles or soft spots. Reddish berries aren't ripe and won't get that way once picked, so leave them behind (whether on the bush or on the shelf).
Store your berries in the refrigerator for up to two weeks and wash them just before using. They're easy to freeze, requiring no preparation other than a quick rinse. Put them in a freezer bag or for berries by the bite, in a single layer on a baking sheet and transfer them to a bag when frozen.
You can use fresh or frozen berries to puree into a smoothie with strawberries and lemon juice. For a different treat, try coating them in chocolate. If you want intense blueberry syrup, make this one to serve over pancakes, waffles or ice cream.
- 2 cups berries
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Mix the cornstarch and water in a sturdy saucepan over low heat until smooth. Add the berries and sugar and cook until thick and transparent. Stir in the lemon juice and cool. This syrup will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks and makes a lovely blue gift--the kind you can give to your grandmother, not at a bachelor party.