It’s blueberry season! While we’re rarely without a bag of frozen blueberries at home, we wait all year long for the big cartons of fresh blueberries to arrive in the produce section. These versatile little berries have been touted as a “superfood,” exploding in popularity over the past several years. Want to get more of them into your diet? Keep reading to learn all about these wonder berries, along with some sweet and savory ways to enjoy them.
From Rare to Everywhere
We were fascinated to learn that while blueberries have been growing wild in North America for millennia, they were only domesticated about a hundred years ago. In fact, a government botanist and a cranberry farmer’s daughter worked together to select and breed wild blueberries. It took five years from the start of their work to the sale of their first commercial crop of blueberries in 1916. From there, cultivated blueberries began making their way across the country and gaining popularity.
The Science of Blueberries
It’s only been in the last few decades that scientists have explored the nutrition and health impact of blueberries. They’re a great source of Vitamins C and K, manganese, and fiber. But extensive research on the benefits of blueberries has encompassed everything from antioxidant activity to major organ function. While they’re not a cure-all, it may not be so off-base to call blueberries a superfood.
One of the interesting features of blueberries is their pH sensitivity. Blueberry bushes prefer to grow in acidic soil, and when cooking with blueberries, the pH of the mixture affects their color. Acidic mixtures make blueberries more reddish, while alkaline mixtures turn them greenish. The Blueberry Council suggests adding lemon juice to help reduce the pH and make the color more appetizing.
Not only do blueberries present chemical challenges, but physical ones too. When baking with them, you may find they sink to the bottom of your loaf pan, cake pan, or muffin cups. The Blueberry Council offers help here too: Dust your blueberries with flour first to help suspend them in batter.
Bring Home the Berries
Now that fresh blueberries are at the supermarket, be sure to choose carefully among them. Look for fully ripe berries with a dark purple-blue color and silver sheen. Avoid wrinkled, damp, or moldy berries. Size may vary, but as long as your berries are firm, smooth, and a deep blue color, they ought to be delicious. Blueberries are best stored in the refrigerator and eaten or frozen within a week and a half. Wash them thoroughly before eating or cooking with them.
Blueberry season here in the US winds down around the beginning of fall, but imported blueberries from South America will start to become available. Of course the prices will be higher, but treating yourself to fresh blueberries occasionally through the winter can be a wonderful way to look fondly back on summer.
Sweet and Savory Blueberry Recipes
For an unassuming little berry that’s only been readily available for a brief period, it’s impressive to note how many blueberry recipes have already become classics. If you need a quick fix, you can always buy pre-packaged blueberry muffin mix or blueberry cheesecake ice cream. But if you want to turn fresh blueberries into sweet and savory creations in your own kitchen, we’ve got some tasty recipes for you to try.
Forget bran muffins, corn muffins, or banana muffins: Blueberry muffins are the clear frontrunner. Among blueberry muffin recipes, the ones made by Jordan Marsh are a longtime favorite. Similar to the leaked recipe for Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookies, these Boston department store muffins have been recreated. King Arthur Flour offers their version of these iconic muffins, and the ratings and comments confirm this recipe is a winner.
Sally’s Baking Addiction never steers us wrong, and we’re confident her blueberry scones are as delicious as all her other goodies. One reason we stand by her recipes is her explanations for all the ingredients and how to handle them for the best results. In short, Sally’s expertise prevents baking fails. Pay close attention to the ingredients and techniques, and you’ll discover that scones don’t have to come from a bakery to be moist and tender.
Another blueberry classic is cheesecake, and we must highlight this recipe featured on Epicurious. It was originally printed in a 1997 issue of Bon Appetit, and the recipe comes from the dining room of an Alaskan fishing lodge. Not only that, but Epicurious reviewers gave it a unanimous four-fork rating and nearly all of them said they’d make it again. The single tweak we’d make is to reduce fresh blueberries in a saucepan rather than use jarred blueberry spread.
Blueberry and Brie Grilled Cheese
Now it’s time to get creative with the savory side of blueberries. Try this recipe from Driscolls, the famous berry growers in California. It’s a well-balanced combination of flavors, from sweet blueberries and tart lemon zest to peppery arugula and rich mascarpone and Brie cheeses. We think these open-face sandwiches would make a festive lunch. Or you can add the toppings to baguette slices and serve as appetizers.
Blueberry Peach Orzo Salad
Finally, we can’t forget the assortment of recipes on the Blueberry Council website itself. We were hard-pressed to make a decision among all the tasty options. But having recently written about the do’s and don’ts of pasta salad, we chose this recipe featuring orzo pasta with blueberries, peaches, and arugula. Dress it with olive oil, plus orange juice and zest. We can’t help but feel as if this salad would benefit from a little cheese, such as a blueberry chevre.