It’s not just because I live in Maine where the tiniest, juiciest, most intensely-flavored ones grow…or because I could eat them by the handful—and do—no matter where they’re grown. And it’s not just because they’ve been shown to be incredibly healthy. I guess it’s a mixture of all of these reasons that I love blueberries. No, I mean I really adore them, as in could-eat-them-every-day-as-long-as-I-walk-this-planet adore them. And if I needed another reason to write about blueberries, well, July is National Blueberry Month and therefore an appropriate time to sing their praises (please disregard my blueberry-stained lips).
Fresh blueberries have dedicated space in my fridge throughout the months of July, August and usually September (during the latter part of summer I stock up on wild blueberries grown here in my own state and freeze what I cannot immediately use). They are fun to pick if you like to do that sort of thing…which I do (the ones shown at the left were picked by one of my sisters and her family recently). Blueberries also wash up easier and are less fragile than raspberries (less prickly to pick, too), are cheaper than blackberries (and no pesky seeds-in-the-teeth issue), they freeze well, are incredibly versatile… and of course, they are darn delicious. While most of us know the basic ways to utilize summer’s blueberry bounty, why limit ourselves?
Go savory: Of course, there is no denying that blueberries are a natural for dessert. And as a dietitian, eating fruit for dessert is something I’m duty-bound to recommend. But I implore you, do not limit them to the dessert plate! Blueberries can go from the breakfast table (I like mine over low fat cottage cheese or yogurt) to the salad bowl, from sauces to entrees. Eating hot blueberries in a savory dish might be foreign to you, but if you’re willing to try it, your taste buds will be rewarded. Try tossing a handful of blueberries into a sauté (pork and chicken with vegetables are especially nice with blueberries) or stirring them into a side dish (dried berries are great in rice-based sides, fresh find a home in potato salad). Sprinkling blueberries over a green salad is one of the easiest ways to expand your berry horizons. Also try adding them to chicken and tuna salads—they instantly boost the dish from good to gourmet, from everyday to restaurant fancy. Check out the internet for inspiration—definitely click on the links below where you’ll find many non-dessert recipes for blueberries. And certainly, simply snacking on them when they’re in season is always allowed!
Think outside the pie: Yes, a real, homemade blueberry pie is amazingly good, but there are many, many ways to enjoy blueberry goodness. Blueberries really need little (or no) adornment, but a simple dollop of vanilla yogurt or a scoop of frozen yogurt adds more nutrients, and if you sprinkle that yogurt with a tiny bit of demerara brown sugar you’ve got something that is spa-like, beautiful and a little more special. And fruit-based desserts are some of my faves…think summertime crisps, cobblers and crumbles, oh my! And don’t forget clafoutis—never, never forget clafoutis. If you don’t know, clafoutis is a rustic French dessert made by baking fruit in a custard-like batter (similar to pancake batter). Traditionally, a clafoutis is specifically made with black cherries, although many clafoutis variations include other fruits such as plums, prunes, blueberries or apples. If you want to get technical about it, these variations apparently should are more accurately called flaungardes, not clafoutis. Whatever you call it, don’t forget to make it. Kim and I adore clafoutis, and click here for our the recipe from Everyday Gluten-Free Slow Cooking if you’d like to try it out. Keep in mind, that “baking” in the slow cooker keeps the kitchen from heating up like it would with regular baking. (As if you needed another reason to make blueberry clafoutis. It’s pictured below. Isn’t it pretty, and doesn’t it practically scream “summer”?)
Did I mention they are versatile? Wild blueberries, native to my state of Maine, are my favorite (though I’d eat any blueberry that you put in front me, without any hesitation). They have a stronger blueberry taste than high bush blueberries. Dried wild blueberries are even more concentrated in flavor, and are a welcome change from raisins in dishes like homemade granola, compote and savory sauces. Frozen blueberries of any type can be used in many of the same ways that fresh ones can—baked goods, yogurt parfaits, on breakfast cereal, in cooked entrees and sides, and in sauces. I can’t say enough about the convenience factor of having frozen blueberries around—I also have frozen wild blueberries on hand, and they’re easy to find in the freezer section of grocery stores if you don’t happen to live someplace where you can buy them by the 5-pound box like I can. (Ok, I’ll stop rubbing that in now.) If you freeze your own berries, be sure to leave them unwashed before freezing—it helps them stay separate instead of freezing into a big blueberry chunk. Then, just wash the amount of berries you need.
And of course, they’re nutritious! Blueberries are bursting with nutrients. I could write multiple posts about blueberry nutrition—there are that many areas of research, and that many ongoing studies on both the big and little blues. However, to make it easy to digest, I’ll just mention the highlights and point the way to further info…You’ve probably already heard that blueberries are among the fruits with the highest amounts of antioxidants. There are many antioxidants, but as a general category, suffice it to say that they help fight bad ol’ free radicals in the body. That means they can help fight aging, cancer and heart disease—they ways they do this, and the different affects of the different antioxidants is where much research is focused. Blueberries are also showing promise in helping combat metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and brain health. And if none of these conditions ring your nutrition-concern bell, then just revel in the fact that blueberries are a good source of dietary fiber and vitamins A and C, and are low in calories. For info on wild blueberry nutrition (and there is lots to know about!), check out the “Health” section on the Wild Blueberry Association of North America’s website (www.wildblueberries.com). For general blueberry nutrition info, explore the consumer area of the US Highbush Blueberry Council’s site (www.blueberrycouncil.com). Both sites have recipes with nice photos and helpful tips for storing and cooking with blueberries.
Ok, enough singing about the blues…time to get back to eating them.
–Kit Broihier, MS, RD, LD
Photographs courtesy of: Kim Mayone, Christiane Broihier