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Published: Tuesday, 7/21/2009

Blueberry Season: Fresh fruit is healthy, sweet & versatile

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

There are buckets of blueberries in area supermarkets this month. Last week prices were $4 for about two pints, which makes it a great time to get your fill of the berries and freeze some for baking or cooking later.

Blueberries are commercially grown in 38 states. North American blueberries are available from April through October, with the peak season from mid-June to mid-August. The earliest harvest is the Southern states, moving north and into Canada as the season continues. Blueberry season in South America runs from November through March.

Six states account for 90 percent of the highbush crop: Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, North Carolina, Georgia and Washington. British Columbia grows the most in Canada.

Lowbush blueberries used primarily in food processing are grown in Maine and eastern Canada.

In Ohio, there's a blueberry U-Pick farm called the Baumhart Road Blueberry Farm in Vermillion (440-225-1103), plus plenty of U-Pick farms in Michigan and Indiana. Simply visit blueberry.org and access U-Pick.

You'll also find festivals in Michigan in August. The National Blueberry Festival is Aug. 6-9 at South Haven, Mich. in the western part of the state, and the Montrose Blueberry Festival is Aug. 12-16 in Montrose, Mich., near Flint.

Blueberries are only 80 calories per cup. Often they are sweet enough that you don't need to add sugar. Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C. They rank among the highest in antioxidant activity, according to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

Plump, juicy, sweet, and easy-to-pick berries range from deep purple-blue to blue-black, highlighted by a silvery sheen called a 'bloom.'

Blueberries are native to North America. When Europeans arrived, Native Americans were enjoying blueberries year-round through clever preservation techniques. The berries were dried in the sun and then added whole to soups, stews, and meat, or crushed into a powder and rubbed into meat as a preservative.

Fresh fruit

When early settlers arrived in the New World, they brought recipes for cobblers, bettys, puddings, pies, cakes, and trifles. Thus began the great American tradition of blueberry desserts.

Blueberry Cobbler is a deep-dish fruit dessert topped with a thick biscuit crust that is sprinkled with sugar. 'My favorite thing was how easy it was to make,' said Angela Benko, who tested the recipe for The Blade.

A classic trifle is made by layering fruit with cake and whipped cream in a glass bowl, which is beautiful for parties and family dinners. It can also be served individually by arranging the ingredients in tall glasses or parfait dishes, as illustrated by today's recipe for Individual Blueberry Trifles.

Blueberry Polenta Cake is another show-stopper dessert. Blueberries are baked in a sweet, lemon-scented cornmeal batter. The cake is dense and moist, so a small slice delivers a big finish to a meal. It keeps well, wrapped, for up to an week.

Use fresh blueberries on your cereal, in salads, in muffins, and in pancakes.

Shower a scoop of ice cream with blueberries.

Pour apple juice into ice cube trays, add frozen blueberries, and freeze until firm.

The juicy ice cubes add flavor and color to sparkling water, lemonade, or iced tea.

Add fresh blueberries to yogurt, as in the Blueberry-Lime Yogurt recipe from

Eating Well In Season: The Farmers' Market Cookbook (Countryman Press, $24.95). Or make a Blueberry Smoothie.

Blueberries also can be added to spinach salad or other green salads. Add sprinkles of blue cheese, pecans or walnuts, and a fruit vinaigrette.

Use fresh or frozen blueberries for baking pies. Plan on four cups or two pints of blueberries per pie.

Freeze now

You can buy frozen blueberries year round in the supermarket. Or freeze your own.

The secret is to use berries that are dry before popping them in the freezer. I like to rinse them before freezing and then let them dry on paper towels. I freeze them in 1 cup (for muffins) or 2 or 4 cup portions (for pies).

If not washed prior to freezing, blueberries should be rinsed before using.

Commercially frozen blueberries have been rinsed prior to freezing.

Frozen blueberries can be folded into muffin batter and baked as directed. (You don't have to defrost them.) But when making pies, I find that it helps to get a smooth filling if the blueberry filling is cooked a little bit to dissolve the sugar before turning into the pie crust.

Processed foods

Blueberry lovers will find many processed foods made with blueberries. Fresh Market in Westgate sells TFM Organic Blueberry Jam, which is delicious. The TFM Blueberry Pancake & Waffle Mix is made with bits of dried blueberries.

Kitchen Tools & Skills in Perrysburg features Stonewall Kitchen's Wild Maine Blueberry Jam ($7.50) and a recipe on their website for Chilled Blueberry Soup. Visit www.kitchentoolsandskills.com.

You can also dry your own blueberries using a dehydrator. For more information, consult The Dehydrator Bible by Jennifer MacKenzie, Jay Nutt & Don Mercer (Robert Rose, $24.95).

Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.

Contact her at: food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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