Just in time for the Fourth of July, fresh blueberries are hitting the stores and your garden, which could add a nice blue hue to your holiday cook out dish.
As far as summer fruits go, blueberries are one of the most fun and versatile. The juicy berries can be frozen and used in smoothies, added to cereal or eaten fresh right off the bush — not to mention desserts.
Because of spring’s rains, the blueberry season is peaking a bit later than usual, with a deluge of blueberries ready for picking in mid July. The bounty of rain kept some early-fruiting varieties from pollinating, although many blueberry growers noted they have plenty of berries now ready for picking.
Joy Horton, an employee at Washington Farms in Watkinsville, said her favorite way to eat blueberries is frozen. But for a hot dessert, blueberry crisp is her favorite.
“I really like a blueberry crisp, which is a really easy dish,” Horton said. “Put your blueberries, your sugar, flower and butter and that’s it. It’s my favorite because it is so easy, it’s just a good hot blueberry dish.”
Beyond making gooey desserts, blueberries are amazingly good for you. The small berries are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and fiber for a healthy treat.
So, to enjoy the summertime delight of blueberries here are some tips on how to store, cook and savor blueberries.
Keeping blueberries fresh for later is an easy process — just follow a few rules.
“You can store them in a shallow container in the refrigerator or you can easily freeze them,” Horton said.
To freeze them, Horton said, “I don’t wash them or anything, I just put them on a cookie sheet and I freeze them like that and then after they are frozen solid I put them in a Ziploc bag. That way they don’t clump together and they don’t get moisture into them before freezing.”
Favorite ways to eat blueberries
Sure, there’s blueberry muffins, cobbler and crisps.
But what about blueberry and shrimp salad?
Rob Putman, manager at Miller Blueberry Farm in Watkinsville, said the salad with a simply vinaigrette is great for summer dinners.
“I make a little vinaigrette ... I’m going to use 1/4 cup of good vegetable oil, a couple tablespoons of lemon juice and about a teaspoon of sugar and just a little pinch of salt and a little pinch of red pepper and that becomes a vinaigrette.”
Putman suggests putting the mixture in a Mason jar and shaking it up.
“I’m going to then take somewhere like 3/4 of a pound to a pound of really good, nice medium shrimp already cooked and deviened, and I’m going to pour part of that vinaigrette over those shrimp and put them back in the refrigerator for about an hour,” Putman said. “Take some good salad greens, whatever your favorite greens are, spring mix would work well ... Add cup and a half of blueberries and then toast up a good handful of walnut pieces.”
Add to that a third of a cup of green soy beans or green peas and about 1/3 cup of feta cheese and you’ve got a fresh salad with the little blue-hued berries.
To serve, just toss the greens in the rest of the salad dressing and pile all other ingredients on top.
“The vinaigrette has sweet and sour, the blueberries add sweet, the shrimp actually adds sweet,” Putman said. “The feta has tanginess to it and the peas or soy beans add a little texture.”
If you’re looking for texture, you also could try Horton’s blueberry crisp recipe.
“I put it in a 13-by-9-inch pan and you just put the blueberries down in the bottom and I actually use a cake mix which takes out the measuring,” she said. “ I use a butter cake mix and you put that over the top and you use two sticks of butter and you just cut them up into little chunks on top, put it in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour and it’s done.”
Blueberries as a super food
Not only are blueberries a yummy fruit, they also pack a punch of health benefits.
Mary Ann Clever, a registered dietician at The Longstreet Clinic, said the fruit is high in antioxidants, fiber and vitamins.
“I do know it’s very rich in antioxidants and the one that’s its big claim to fame is anthocyanins,” she said. “In fact, I think it’s one of the highest ones you can get with that particular antioxidant, so that’s kind of cool. It’s high in vitamin A, C, E, betacarotene and has potassium, manganese and magnesium. It’s also high in fiber for a fruit.
“For a cup of the little guys they actually have almost four grams of fiber, which is a pretty significant amount for that amount of fruit.”
And just because blueberries are a fruit, which means added sugar, it doesn’t mean it’s bad sugar.
“You are going to have the fructose, which is the fruit sugar,” Clever said. “But it’s not like it’s a simple sugar, it’s a complex carbohydrate which means you are getting a lot more than just sugar. You are getting vitamins and minerals and nutrients and antioxidants and a lot of other things that are good for the body.”