Monday, June 9, 2014

Meatless Monday: Psyched for the Return of the Blueberry

Blueberries are starting to reappear in Connecticut supermarkets. Currently coming from the Deep South, soon they will be arriving from New Jersey, and sometime after the Fourth of July they will be a local delicacy. They should be plentiful as a CT Pick-Your-Own crop from late July through early August. 

The blueberry is one of the few fruits native to North America. By the time the Pilgrims arrived in what is now Massachusetts, Native Americans were drying blueberries in the sun to preserve them for year-round use. They ate them fresh in season and added dried berries to soups and stews. Legend has it that dried blueberries, given as a gift by the Native Americans, helped the Pilgrims survive their first winter and that Sautauthig, a pudding made with cracked corn and blueberries, was served at the first Thanksgiving dinner.  

The Native Americans also used the berries for medicinal purposes and for preserving meat. 

Cranberries, another native fruit, were successfully cultivated in the mid-1860s, but the cultivation of blueberries proved more difficult. In 1911, Elizabeth White, the daughter of a New Jersey cranberry farmer, teamed up with Dr. Frederick Colville, who was working with the USDA to cultivate the blueberry. The two achieved the first successful commercial blueberry harvest in Whitesbog, NJ in 1916. You can read more of the story here

Blueberries are a nutritional powerhouse. Low in calories and high in Vitamin C, Potassium, and Manganese, they are packed with antioxidants and phytoflavinoids, and are considered by many to be a “superfood.” 

As with most produce, they are best eaten just picked. But I have found they keep well in the fridge, unlike strawberries, and will taste pretty good for several days.

Should you be lucky enough to get a chance to pick your own, they are a snap to freeze. Make sure the berries are perfect and free of stems and leaves, but do not wash them. Spread the berries on a baking pan or cookie sheet (preferably with sides) into a layer one berry thick and pop them in the freezer until they are hard. Dump them into a ziplock freezer bag, push out the air, zip the bag shut, and return them to the freezer; try to use them up within a few months. Rinse the berries before eating them or using them in a recipe.  Frozen blueberries make a great “add” to a smoothie.

Last year I made some delicious and easy Blueberry Chia Jam. It was so good that I made a second batch and froze some in lidded freezer containers. With blueberry season so close, I decided to use up the last bit of the 2013 jam. It’s great, perhaps even better than when I first froze it. My favorite use for this jam is as topping on vanilla Greek yogurt. Yum, and extra good for you, too!

Get ready. Get out your recipes. Blueberry season is almost here!

Happy Monday. Have a great week!

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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