“One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry.
Hat berry, shoe berry in my canoeberry.
Under the bridge and over the dam.
Looking for berries. Berries for jam!”
from ‘Jamberry’ by Bruce Degen
It’s blueberry season! Find a local U-Pick place, grab your large kitchen bowls and get yourself some blue gold.
Blueberries are serious power food. Not only are they delicious, but they are very low on the glycemic index, which makes it wonderful for folks battling blood sugar problems or struggling with their weight. They’re jam (ha!) packed with incredibly high levels of antioxidants, flavanoids, fiber, Vitamin C and folic acid. In lab tests, blueberries have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, ill effects of aging (um, what are good effects of aging?), vision loss, and urinary tract infections. They’ve also been proven to make you more attractive. (Not really, just making sure you’re paying attention!)
Adding to blueberries’ charms is the fact that they’re super simple to prepare. You don’t have to peel, pit, chop or core them.
And since this is my birthday week -because I stretch my birthday festivities out to cover an entire week*- I decided to haul the kids out to the blueberry patch for the day. While the kids covered themselves in SPF 4000, I pulled a gallon of water, sliced a loaf of bread for power-munching with berries, grabbed a bag of chips and a container of dip and slid the lot into our cooler. I hauled the cooler and every large mixing bowl I own to the van and we hit the road.
*As I have officially been 29 for a few years now, I feel the need to make my birthdays a little more exciting. Therefore, I am extending the party (and demands for special treatment) by a couple days in either direction. I think that’s okay since I’m the only girl around here…
I adore blueberry picking. It’s by far the easiest berry to pick and preserve. This, combined with the obvious health benefits and the fact that it’s my favorite berry to eat, makes us prodigious pickers.
Putting up blueberries is one of our big summer projects around here. We usually eat our way through three or four batches of blueberry jam and several gallon-size freezer bags of frozen blueberries per year. Not surprisingly, the quantity we consume is steadily growing. With five little boys I expect that I’m going to have to pick more every year until they are grown and they move away. I’m already drawing close to needing a separate chest freezer just for fruit. Most years we pop about 45 pounds of blueberries into the freezer and process about 20 pounds of berries into blueberry jam. (See tomorrow’s post for a primer on Blueberry jam making and processing!)
Since we do this every year, we’ve had a chance to establish a good many traditions to go along with the picking. We dust off our copy of ‘Jamberry’ every year and read it before hitting the patch for the first time. We make sure we have a picnic lunch and a great deal of cold water to keep us going. And, most importantly, the first berry we touch is not with our hands. When we get to the blueberry bushes, our first berry needs to be picked with our teeth. It doesn’t get any fresher than that! Have you ever eaten a blueberry still warm from resting on the bush in the sun? If not, I highly recommend trying it. It seriously re-arranges your outlook on life for the better.
This year we had to try a new patch since the one we’ve picked at for the last 10 years was stripped clean in only two weeks. We tried out “Blueberry Hill” in Franklinville, NY. This is an unoffically organic patch. It is obvious that they’re putting a great deal of effort into their work. Good stuff! And mercy, but it was cheap. They charged $0.75 a pound! Holy wuh! Unless you’re growing them yourself, or you have a relative who lets you pick for free you cannot beat that! We managed to come away with a little more than 21 pounds. Not enough, but it’s a good start.
Here are a couple things that can make blueberry picking easier for the first timer in the patch.
- Do not pick green or white berries. Blueberries do not ripen after picking.
- A ripe berry will come easily off the bush.
- A ripe berry will have a deep purple or blackish blue color and a waxy looking coating- this is a natural protection for the berry and is desirable.
- The size of the berry does not matter. If it has a deep color and comes easily from the bush it is ripe!
- Ripe blueberries are plump. Don’t bother with the ones that are wrinkled- the birds will love those.
- Move branches and leaves to check the undersides. Often those are the places with the largest amounts of ripe berries.
- Cut the top off of a gallon milk container, leaving the handle intact. Use a rope or scarf to tie the jug around your waist so you can use two hands while picking.
- The blueberries are perishable and sensitive to the sun. Go straight home after picking and don’t leave your berries in direct sun. Put them in the fridge until you decide what you’ll be doing with them.
So this brings me to what to do with the bounty.
I usually get the easiest thing out of the way first and freeze vast quantities of berries.
If you pick at a blueberry patch that doesn’t spray with chemicals, three quarters of the work is already done. You don’t need to wash the blueberries because they have not been in contact with anything that needs to be removed from them. Blueberries naturally create their own protective covering (the waxy coating present to a greater or lesser degree on all ripe berries) that help prevent spoilage. It is absolutely unnecessary to wash them before freezing if they come from a no-spray patch.
Worried about bugs? Don’t be. Any bug left in with your blueberries isn’t going to last 10 minutes in the freezer. Using the method described below gives you a chance to weed out any frozen critters before packaging for long term storage.
How to Freeze Blueberries
If your berries are from a patch where they spray pesticides, or if you’re unsure of the berries origins, you’ll want to carefully wash them in cool water and allow them to dry completely before proceeding to the first step.
- Spread berries loosely on a clean, dry rimmed sheet pan or roasting pan.
- Place pan in freezer for about 1 hour, or until hardened.
- Transfer frozen berries quickly, with minimal touching, to gallon or quart sized freezer bags.
- Put bags immediately into a freezer that is at about 0°F.
That’s it! Could it be any easier? Having frozen blueberries is like having money in the bank. You can use them straight from the freezer almost interchangeably with fresh blueberries. Toss a handful into buttermilk pancakes, waffles, muffins, crumb cake, etc… Throw some on your breakfast cereal, lunch salad or evening bowl of vanilla ice cream. (What? You don’t have an evening bowl of ice cream? You probably should. Life is mighty fine when you do!)
Here’s a recipe for a wondrously simple old-fashioned blueberry crisp that you can make with either fresh or frozen blueberries. If you’re using frozen blueberries, don’t worry about thawing them first. Just add a few minutes to the cooking time. And don’t skimp on the cinnamon. That’s another power food… but that’s another post!
This crisp is simply delicious served alone straight from the pan, but it’s simply decadent served with vanilla ice cream or frozen custard.
- 3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
- 2 Tablespoons plus 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 Tablespoons light brown sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 4 Tablespoons cold butter
Spray a 8″ oven-safe baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside and preheat oven to 350°F.
Scatter blueberries evenly into prepared baking dish. In a separate bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon and remaining flour and use two butter knifes to cut butter into the mixture until crumbly. Sprinkle the flour/butter mixture evenly over the berries.
Bake for 25-30 minutes (or more for frozen berries) or until the berries are bubbly and the topping is golden brown and delicious.