It’s time to stock up on blueberries and put some by in your freezer for a handy supply throughout the year. They’re low in calories and sodium, contain no cholesterol, and are a source of fiber. In fact, they are a one-stop source for all kinds of health benefits. Fresh with yogurt, on cereal, in muffins, pies, or cobblers, you can’t go wrong with nature’s little powerhouse.
Blueberries are a good source of Vitamins A, C, and E, folic acid, and fiber. They rank #1 in antioxidant behavior, neutralizing “free radicals” that are thought to be linked to the development of certain cancers. Blueberry juice contains a compound that prevents bacteria from anchoring themselves to the bladder, thereby helping to prevent urinary tract infections. A major constituent of the fiber in blueberries is pectin, known for its ability to lower blood cholesterol. Studies have indicated a relationship between bilberries, the European cousin of blueberries, and improved eyesight and reduced eye fatigue.
A Cautionary Note
Blueberries contain oxalates, naturally occurring substances found in plants, people, and animals. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause problems. Folks with kidney or gallbladder problems should avoid eating large amounts of blueberries. Oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium from the body, so if you want to increase your calcium levels, avoid eating blueberries with calcium-rich foods, or if taking calcium supplements, eat your blueberries 2-3 hours before or after taking those supplements. As always, with any health issues, consult your physician before changing your diet.
Selecting and Storing Blueberries
Choose blueberries that are firm and have a whitish bloom. If the container is plastic, examine the underside and shake the container. The berries should move freely; if they do not, they may be soft, damaged or moldy. Blueberries should be free from moisture, since the presence of water will cause the berries to decay. When purchasing frozen berries, shake the bag gently to ensure that the berries move freely and are not clumped together, which may suggest they have thawed and been refrozen.
Ripe blueberries should be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator, where they will keep for about a week, although they will be freshest if consumed within a few days. Don't wash berries until right before eating, as washing will remove the bloom that protects the fruit’s skin from degradation. Always check berries before storing and remove any damaged berries to prevent the spread of mold.
Before freezing blueberries, wash, drain and remove any damaged berries. Spread the berries out on a cookie sheet or baking pan, place in the freezer until frozen, then put the berries in a plastic bag for storage in the freezer. Berries should last up to a year in the freezer.
When using frozen berries in recipes that do not require cooking, thaw well and drain prior to using. For cooked recipes, use unthawed berries, since this will ensure maximum flavor. Extend the cooking time a few minutes to accommodate for the frozen berries. You may notice that berries used in baked products may take on a green color. This is a natural reaction of their anthocyanidin pigments and does not make the food item unsafe to eat.
Blueberries are the fruits of a shrub that belong to the heath family, which includes the cranberry and bilberry as well as the azalea, mountain laurel and rhododendron. Blueberries grow in clusters and range in size from that of a small pea to a marble. They are deep in color, ranging from blue to maroon to purple-black, and feature a white-gray waxy "bloom" that covers the surface serving as a protective coat. The skin surrounds a semi-transparent flesh that encases tiny seeds. Blueberries are native to North America where they grow throughout the woods and mountainous regions in the United States and Canada. This fruit is rarely found growing in Europe and has only been recently introduced in Australia.
Blueberry bushes have very shallow root systems and are very sensitive to water fluctuations. They need at least 1 to 2 inches of water per week and require highly acidic soil conditions for best results. Blueberry plants begin to produce fruit in the third season; however, they do not become fully productive for about six years. Cultivated blueberries are typically mildly sweet, while those that grow wild have a more tart and tangy flavor.
There are approximately 30 different species of blueberries, suited to specific regions. The Highbush variety can be found throughout the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida, the Lowbush variety throughout the Northeast and Eastern Canada, and the Evergreen variety throughout states in the Pacific Northwest.
History of Blueberries
Blueberries played an important role North American Indian food culture, being an ingredient in pemmican, a traditional dish composed of fruit and dried meat. The wild varieties are tarter than the cultivated ones, and the colonists did not share in the enjoyment of blueberries until sugar became easier to obtain. Blueberry Grunt and Blueberry Slump then became traditional favorites for desserts. Blueberries were not cultivated until the beginning of the 20th century, becoming commercially available in 1916.
Recipe: Blueberry Grunt or Slump
Some say the dessert got its name from the “grunts” of satisfied eaters or the fact it didn’t hold its shape when dished up!
2 cups buttermilk baking mix
½ tsp dried lemon peel
¼ tsp nutmeg
2/3 cup milk
2 cups blueberries
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
Cream or ice cream (optional)
Method: Mix together baking mix, peel, and nutmeg. Add milk and mix with fork just until moistened. Put blueberries, water, and sugar in 10 inch skillet and cook just until mixture begins to bubble. Lower heat. Drop dough in 8 mounds on simmering blueberries and cook uncovered over low heat 10 minutes. Cover and cook 10 minutes longer. Serve dumplings with the blueberry sauce and cream. Makes 8 servings.