Out of the Blue
Blueberries were called star berries by Native Americans, who identified them by their five-point blossom ends. Indigenous peoples added blueberries to stews, soups and puddings. Tribal leaders were thankful for these gifts of Creation because berries helped keep their children from starving during famine. Little did they know that this tasty fruit they found growing wild on bushes was a gold mine of antioxidants, a superfood.
Blueberry plants come in two varieties—one that supplies fresh fruit and another whose fruit can be frozen. Most fresh blueberries come from highbush plants, cultivated for more than a century to yield large, succulent, mildly sweet berries. These are the berries typically sold at your local supermarket in plastic clamshell containers. The other type are lowbush berries, often referred to as wild blueberries. These plants produce smaller, tangy-sweet berries that are most widely available in frozen form. Fortunately, freezing does not reduce the fruit’s anthocyanin levels, which give blueberries their skin color.
These little blue blessings couldn’t be easier to add to your daily diet. The bountiful U.S. harvest peaks in July and August, but blueberry production in South America allows fresh fruit year-round. Once in your kitchen, blueberries only require rinsing—nothing to peel, trim, seed or chop. With minimal effort, blueberries can be added to any dish you choose.
Dried blueberries have a wonderful concentrated flavor and are easy to store. Toss them into the batter when making scones, muffins or pancakes. But beware, a handful of dried berries is much higher in calories than a handful of fresh berries.
A POWERHOUSE FOR HEALTH
Blueberries fit naturally into healthy lifestyles. Fresh berries are low in calories, a good source of the bone-forming mineral manganese, and high in fiber and vitamin C. They’ve recently been ranked highest of any fruit in antioxidants, substances that may prevent or delay cell damage. Researchers are looking at the possible role anthocyanins play in decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, vision loss, cognitive decline, inflammation and cancer. As blueberries’ benefits continue to be revealed, we marvel at our Creator’s goodness to pack so many benefits into such a tiny berry.
Better with Blueberries
CHICKEN OR TUNA SALAD
Stir a generous amount of fresh or frozen blueberries into tuna or chicken salad just before serving.
ALMOND OR PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH
Spread one slice of whole grain bread with almond butter or peanut butter. Arrange fresh blueberries in a single layer. Drizzle with honey or maple syrup, if you like, and top with another slice of bread.
About 2 minutes before pizza is finished baking, top with ½ cup fresh or thawed frozen blueberries and ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake 2 minutes more.
Toss fresh blueberries with watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew melon. Add a squeeze of lime and fresh mint.
FISH, GRAIN AND FRUIT SALAD
In a large shallow bowl, arrange ingredients in layers: chunks of grilled salmon (or chicken), fresh blueberries, coarsely chopped cucumber or honeydew, salad greens and quinoa, brown rice, farro or wheat berries. Serve with balsamic vinaigrette.
After sautéeing kale with minced shallot, add fresh blueberries with a squeeze of lemon and a little salt.
SALSA FOR GRILLED CHICKEN
Combine coarsely chopped blueberries, diced fresh peaches, chopped red onion, hot pepper jelly, lime juice, cilantro and salt.
Add fresh or frozen blueberries to barbecue sauce, and heat just until berries start to break down. Incredible on grilled turkey burgers!
Layer blueberries in a glass with yogurt and your favorite breakfast cereal. Serve immediately.
BLUEBERRIES FOR KEEPS
Storing: Fresh blueberries store best in a shallow container, covered, in the fridge. Don’t wash berries until ready to use. Depending on their freshness when purchased, they should keep for five to seven days. To wash, gently rinse in a colander in cool water. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.
Freezing: Avoid rinsing fresh berries before freezing them because it may make their skins tough. Simply keep them in the original plastic container, place in a resealable plastic bag and freeze. Rinse before using.
If you plan on cooking blueberries or prefer to wash them before freezing, rinse and dry as above. Place in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in the freezer for about 24 hours or until solid. Transfer to resealable plastic bags or freezer containers, label and freeze up to 12 months.