Unlike so many other fruits, blueberries are native to North America. Different varieties of the plant, including bilberries, have grown in Europe and beyond, and there are countless names given to fruits in the blueberry family. For centuries, blueberries grew only in the wild. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that farmers began to selectively breed the berries. In parts of Maine, wild blueberries still constitute a major harvest, but the small wild berries are not as popular as their larger, cultivated relatives. Highbush blueberries are now a common addition to home gardens. Not only are the shrubs producers of tasty fruit, but they also turn bright red in the fall and are an attractive backyard addition.
If you are just starting out on a blueberry-growing expedition, start by purchasing some shrubs for your local nursery—do not attempt to grow the plants from seed. Blueberries appreciate full sunlight, some shelter from the wind, and rich, well-drained, acidic soil. To get your planting site ready, add plenty of organic matter such as peat moss (which will also increase the acidity) or compost. You can also mulch your plants later with pine needles, which will contribute to the soil’s acidity as they break down. Plant early in the spring, being sure to leave 6-8 feet between plants. Dig holes deep enough to sink the roots all the way in without needing to mound the soil on top. Water well until the plants are established. After a few years, you may need to prune the bushes to encourage productivity; do so by removing excessive, twiggy growth.
First, follow the steps in “preparation” to ensure that the berries are clean and dry. Once dry, ripe berries should be refrigerated. If berries are sour and have white or pink areas near the base, they may be under-ripe and can be left out to ripen. Refrigerated berries should be eaten within a week. For long-term storage, pour the berries into freezer bags, taking care not to squish any, and freeze for up to several months. Blueberries can also be made into jam and then canned.
Blueberries are often high on the list of “super foods,” and for good reason: they are full of anthocyanins, a class of phytochemicals that work as antioxidants. Antioxidants can help fight free radicals, compounds that damage cells. More simply put, antioxidants can help your body battle compounds that are related to cancer and chronic disease.
Rinse berries in a colander, being sure to pick out any leaves and stems. Then, spread out on a cookie sheet or clean dish towel and allow to air dry out of direct sunlight. If berries are still white or pink near the bases, allow to sit out for a few days continue ripening. Ripe berries are fully blue and should be more sweet than sour in flavor.
Meatless Monday Recipe: Blueberry-Banana Smoothie
Kate Pace, a volunteer baking, tasting and testing recipes out of the Vermont Fresh Handbook tried out this Blueberry-Banana Smoothie recipe. Her comments are in italics in the recipe below. You can find Kate on Facebook and Twitter.
5-10 minutes to prep and blend
- 1 banana, peeled
- ½ – 1 cup blueberries
- ½ cup yogurt (plain, flavored, organic)
- ½ cup milk or juice (orange juice is our favorite!)
- other fruit if desired
- 1 cup ice cubes
**other fun and healthy additions: ¼ cup wheat germ, ½ cup slivered almonds
**avocado is a wonderful addition to a smoothie, rich in potassium, vitamin b and folic acid. If you do add 1 avocado, also add a tablespoon or two of honey, to your taste.
Instructions: Put all ingredients into blender and blend until smooth, adding more milk or juice if necessary. Serve immediately.
Meatless Monday Recipe: Blueberry Pancakes
(adapted from Marion Cunningham: The Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (if you like, substitute in ½ cup whole wheat flour)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted, or vegetable oil
- ½ cup blueberries, fresh or partially thawed (beware, thawed berries will result in bluish pancakes!)
- Maple syrup
- Mix flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar together in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, beat egg, add milk and butter/oil, and beat together.
- Pour into dry ingredients and mix briefly; fluffy pancakes are made from fairly lumpy batter! Stir in blueberries.
- Heat frying pan or griddle over medium heat and grease lightly with butter or oil.
- Using a small ladle or ¼ cup measuring scoop, pour dollops of batter into the pan, being sure to leave enough room for the cakes to spread.
- Cook until browned on the underside (often when bubbles start appearing in the top), then flip each pancake. When both sides are browned, remove to plate.
- Serve hot, drizzled with maple syrup.
To receive more recipes and tips on your favorite fruits and vegetables, download the Vermont Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook.