July brings bumper crops of plump, juicy indigo berries to farmers markets and u-pick fields throughout the land. Get the most from these precious purple gems while they are fresh and seasonal in July, aka National Blueberry Month.
Blueberries, with more than 450 species in their large family, have the distinction of being one of the few fruits native to North America, praised and enjoyed by Native Americans and settlers for hundreds of years. The former believed that the “Great Spirit” sent this five-pointed “star berry” to prevent starvation during lean times. They created pemmican, a type of “blueberry Jerky” to sustain them during lengthy journeys.
While Ben Franklin discovered that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” a serving of blueberries a day might just keep the oncologist, neurologist, cardiologist, optometrist, endocrinologist, gastroenterologist and periodontist away. A cup of low-gycemic, diabetic-friendly blueberries contains just 80 calories and almost zero fat, but a motherload of nutrients.
Packed with Vitamin C, blueberries boost the immune system, stimulate collagen production for youthful skin and maintain healthy gums.
They are a good and plenty source of dietary fiber and manganese to dial-up bone health and energy.
Blueberries are rock stars in antioxidant activity, thanks to the polyphenols, especially anthocyanins that give the berry its dark blue hue. These mighty warriors fend off free radicals that can cause cancer, cardiovascular disease and age-related decline.
They have been shown to improve eyesight and keep gastro inflammation at bay. And since organically grown blueberries have been found to contain higher doses of antioxidants than conventionally grown ones, where possible, go organic. Recent studies have also linked blueberries to improved memory.
Pick a Winner
Look for blueberries that are firm, have a rich blue hue with a silvery protective gloss, and are uniform in size. Avoid unripe green pee-wees or overripe mush balls and soggy packages.
Store these blue beauts in their original containers for up to a week in the fridge. Do a cold rinse when ready to eat, and comb through the batch removing stray twigs, leaves or bad berries. Pat dry and enjoy.
Blueberry Fields Forever
According to “The Great Food Almanac,” if all the blueberries grown in North America in one year were spread out in a single layer, they would cover a four-lane highway stretching from New York to Chicago.
Maine is the top banana of wild blueberry production, both in North America and worldwide, while Michigan produces the most cultivated varieties.
A Blueberry Walks into a Bar
The multi-tasking blueberry can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, supper, snacks and desserts. Toss them in your ricotta pancakes, whole-wheat bars, oatmeal, buttermilk scones, coconut macadamia quick breads and frothy smoothies.
Whip up a sweet and tart blueberry Meyer lemon syrup for French toast, waffles or crepes, or a savory blueberry balsamic sauce to drizzle on grilled wild-caught salmon or shrimp, roasted chicken, lamb chops or burgers.
Do a twist on traditional salads with a sizzling Asian chicken breast tossed with blueberries, ginger and toasted cashews; or a roasted kale, red onion and blueberry blend; or a Mediterranean with feta, figs and blueberries; or a turkey Cobb tossed with avocado and blueberry vinaigrette.