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Blueberries

Posted by Denise on June 19, 2011

blueberries on bush best

 Blueberries on the bush waiting to be picked. The dark blue ones are ripe.

 

Nearly every May or June for the past 15 years, our family has trekked out to the u-pick blueberry fields to harvest a huge amount of the beautiful indigo blue berries. The idea is always to try to pick enough berries to last us until the next year, but that never happens. The more we pick, the more delicious ways we find to use them.

blueberry field shelter

Andy and Lynn heading to get their buckets.

Mark, the man who owns the blueberry fields where we pick, uses all organic means for growing the berries, so pickers are able to eat them directly off of the bushes and we do repeatedly. Mark encourages it and there is nothing better than super fresh, juicy berries warm from the morning sun bursting in your mouth. We always leave the fields with bluish tongues.

I used to dislike blueberries. I didn’t like the taste or the stickiness when they were cooked. Glenn loves them so years ago when I heard about u-pick places near us, I planned a trip to the fields as a surprise for him. I’ve been hooked ever since! I found out that berries fresh off the bush are completely different from canned pie filling or picked-too-soon-in-order-to-ship-them berries. There is no contest, fresh picked are the best. Nowadays, some of the grocery stores get fresher local berries, but if you can locate a u-pick place near you, give it a try!

Blueberries grow all over the United States from Florida to Maine to the state of Washington. There are many varieties of blueberries. Each type differs as to where they prefer to grow, how large the bushes get, how big the berries get, when they ripen, and how they taste. Maine blueberries tend to be very small, growing on low bushes close to the ground. As small as they are, the Maine blueberries seem to pack the most flavor.

There are quite a few varieties of blueberries that grow here in Central Florida. Florida varieties tend to be upright shrubs, some nearly small trees, with larger fruit of between ¼ and ½ “ in diameter. Our favorite field has several varieties so  for about 2 ½ months there are always some becoming ripe. This year the bushes were loaded with berries.

the blueberry pickers

Glenn, Andy and Lynn heading out with their buckets.

We like to leave the house early to harvest berries while the air is still cool, arriving at the fields right when they open. This year Andy’s girlfriend, Lynn, went with us for her first time picking blueberries. It is so peaceful, picking the ripe berries out in the countryside. We go on a Saturday and the world is still sleepy when we start. Only a couple of other people are out picking so early. Everyone talks in low voices, reluctant to disturb the quiet beauty of the early part of the day. Birds are quietly chirping, then a flock of Sand Hill Cranes fly overhead as they do every year, honking loudly. As the morning wears on, more cars arrive spilling more people into the fields. By the time our buckets are filled with ripe berries, an hour and a half to two hours after we started, the fields are hopping. People are talking in normal voices and the day is well under way.

andy and lynn picking blueberries 1

andy and lynn picking blueberries 2

glenn picking blueberries

We head up to the shelter to pay and discover that we’ve picked over 23 pounds of blueberries! Glenn always leads the pack. He picked enough this year for both of us. Due to a knee injury, I had to be contented with snapping a few photos and picking a very small amount of berries to feel like I contributed to the haul. Glenn is a machine when he starts picking. He filled two buckets in the same time Andy and Lynn took to fill each of theirs.

blueberries in bucket 1

Blueberries are so good for you. Filled with antioxidants, they are considered a super food. Low in fat, high in fiber, higher in good flavor, blueberries reportedly help offset oxidative stress in your body due to free radicals. They are a great source of vitamins, including high in vitamin E, and have only 48 calories in each large handful. Blueberries have been shown to help with memory function (Boy do I need to keep eating them!), learning and coordination and also aid in preventing urinary tract infections, help keep your heart healthy, and prevent some cancers. All this packed into these succulent little morsels!

When you are picking blueberries, pick only the ones that are dark blue and plump. Berries that are reddish blue are not quite ripe. They won’t hurt you to eat them, but they are not quite ready and lack the flavor of ones that are fully ripe. Don’t worry about the faint white haze over ripe blueberries. It is perfectly normal. In fact, berries that lack this haze on the bush are starting to get past prime.

andy and lynn eating blueberries

As we demonstrated as we picked them, blueberries are delicious eaten raw. They are also great over your morning hot or cold cereal, in smoothies, in muffins and pancakes and a host of other baked goods. They are terrific paired with other fresh fruits such as peaches (see Blueberry Peach Clafouti) and strawberries. Blueberries are easy to keep. Do not wash them until you use them. If your blueberries are organically grown, you will not need to wash them unless they have dirt or sand on them.

Fresh blueberries will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. Any blueberries that will not be used soon should be frozen. Spread the berries out in a single layer on baking sheets and stick them in the freezer for a couple of hours. Once frozen, empty the baking sheets into freezer bags and store them in the freezer until you need them.

The only cautions that I can think of regarding blueberries are that once frozen, blueberries are soft once they thaw, so they are better used in things that don’t require a firm berry, such as baked good, smoothies, sauces, and syrups. And blueberry juice will stain clothing, fingers, countertops, and just about anything else they touch. This is a small price to pay for such healthy deliciousness!

 closeup of blueberries in bucket 

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