Berry, berry good

Firm, plump and filled with antioxidants, blueberries are bursting with vitamins A, C, folic acid, fiber - and have no fat


Published: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 24, 2004 at 10:10 a.m.

A pileated woodpecker landed boldly on a fence post and eyed his prey. Swooping down he grabbed it and escaped, his red head sparkling like a strawberry and his big black wings whirring like a model airplane.

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North America produces 95 percent of the world's blueberries. American eats about one pound of the fruit a year.

Courtesy photo

Facts

QUICK TRICKS

To get blueberries on the table faster than Junior can say ''what's for dinner?'' try these quick tricks:

- Creamy Blueberry Dip: 2 cups fresh or thawed, frozen blueberries, 1/3 cup light cream cheese, 1 tablespoon apricot preserves. Combine using a food processor or blender. Serve with fruit.

- Blueberry-Pineapple Topping: 1 can (8 ounces) drained crushed pineapple, 1/4 cup pineapple preserves, 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries. In small saucepan over medium head, bring pineapple and preserves to a boil. Stir in blueberries, remove from heat. Serve at room temperature or chilled over ice cream, pound cake, cut up fruit, etc.

- Peppery Blueberry Dressing: 1/4 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 2 cups fresh blueberries. In a medium bowl combine brown sugar, vinegar and pepper until smooth. Add blueberries; toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature at least 20 minutes. Serve over mixed fruits as an appetizer or on vanilla ice cream with pound cake for dessert.

Source: North American Blueberry Council

Mike Beard laughed at the bird's antics.

''There's plenty,'' he said.

Blueberry season has arrived on Mike and Sherryl Beard's East Texas berry farm. From there the blueberry season migrates northward into Maine and Canada.

Peak season for North American-grown blueberries is mid-May through mid-October, when berries from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia ripen. The season begins in mid-April in Florida. Blueberries on the market other months are grown in Argentina or Chile, or have been stored in refrigeration. North America produces 95 percent of the world's blueberries.

The blueberry is a darling of the food world. Nutritionists have long touted its healthy helping of vitamin C, vitamin A, folic acid and fiber. A half cup has 42 no-fat calories.

Now researchers have crowned it No. 1 in antioxidants out of 40 fruits and vegetables tested. Antioxidants help neutralize ''free radicals'' that are believed to cause cancer and age-related diseases.

Other research indicates blueberries may reduce buildup of ''bad'' cholesterol, slow age-related memory loss, promote urinary-tract health, reduce the risk of infection, reduce the risk of diabetes, reduce ''brain aging'' and help improve eyesight.

The average American eats a pound of blueberries a year.

When buying, look for fresh blueberries that firm, plump, smooth-skinned and dry. Ripe berries should be deep-purple blue to blue-black. Reddish berries aren't ripe, but can be used in cooking. Avoid containers with juice stains. The fruit could be crushed or overripe.

Store fresh blueberries covered in the refrigerator and use within 10 days of purchase. Wash just before serving.

To freeze berries at home, do not wash. Berries need to be completely dry. Cover the container with plastic wrap, then in airtight resealable plastic bag.

Frozen blueberries can be substituted, unthawed, in baked goods. They were washed before processing.

The Beards don't eat many blueberries this time of year. They are too busy. The blueberry patch among the tall pine trees produces one to two tons a day during peak season. Enough for the birds.

BLUEBERRY SCONES WITH LEMON GLAZE

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut in chunks

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup fresh blueberries

Glaze:

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.

Using forks or a pastry blender, cut butter into the flour mixture to resemble coarse crumbs.

Make a well in the center and pour in cream. Fold together just to incorporate; do not overwork.

Toss blueberries in 1 tablespoon flour to coat; fold into batter.

Press dough out on a lightly floured surface into a 12-by-3-by-1 1/4 inch rectangle. Cut into triangles.

Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake 15 to 20 minutes or until light brown.

Cool slightly then glaze.

To make glaze: Put juice and confectioners' sugar into glass bowl. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add zest and butter. Microwave for 30 second on high. Whisk until smooth then drizzle over scones.

Serve warm.

Makes about 8 scones.

- From Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen

WILD SUMMER GREENS WITH BLUEBERRIES AND TARRAGON BLUE CHEESE DRESSING

Fresh wild greens and edible flowers, enough for four servings (see note)

1/2 cup fresh blueberries

Red onion for garnish

Orange wedges for garnish

Blueberry dressing (below)

Mix greens and flowers.

Divide onto four serving plates.

Top with blueberries and dressing.

Garnish with oranges and red onions as desired.

Note: Include any of the following: nasturtiums, Johnny jump-ups, day lilies, spinach, shiso, sweet Cecily, endive, arugula, Belgian endive, lemon mint, beet greens, mustard greens or tarragon leaves.

TARRAGON BLUE CHEESE BLUEBERRY SALAD DRESSING

2 tablespoons blue cheese, crumbled

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/3 cup blueberry vinegar (purchase ready-made or use recipe that follows)

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 clove chopped shallot

1 tablespoon fresh chopped tarragon

1 teaspoon honey

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small bowl, mash together blue cheese into blueberry vinegar until cheese is well incorporated.

Pouring slowly, in a steady stream, whisk in oil. Stir in chopped shallot, tarragon and honey.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes about 1 cup.

- From Oregon Blueberry Commission

BLUEBERRY VINEGAR

1 pint fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained

2 cups white vinegar, divided

1/4 cup granulated sugar

At least two days before serving, make blueberry vinegar.

Place blueberries, 3/4 cups vinegar and sugar in saucepan; simmer gently for 5 minutes. Cool.

Pour into 1 quart jar with remaining white vinegar.

Cover and stand at least 2 days.

Strain vinegar as it is used, but do not discard blueberries. Store in refrigerator.

Makes about 2 cups.

WILTED SPINACH WITH BLUEBERRIES, HAZELNUTS AND BACON

1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

3 tablespoons sugar

6 ounces bacon, diced

3 tablespoons shallots, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cups corn oil

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons chopped rosemary

3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

2 medium green apples, peeled, cored and diced

3/4 pound baby spinach leaves

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Sprinkle blueberries with sugar and set aside.

In heavy skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.

In bacon fat, sauté shallots and garlic until soft.

Whisk in oil and vinegars, stir in rosemary, hazelnuts, apples and blueberries. Cook for one minute.

Add spinach and toss until just wilted, about 40 seconds.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with bacon.

Makes 6 large servings.

- From British Columbia Blueberry Council

BERRY PARFAITS WITH GINGER

1 cup whipping cream, chilled

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup finely diced crystallized ginger, divided

3 cups mixed blueberries and sliced strawberries

Mint for garnish

In large bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until firm.

Fold in 2 tablespoons of the ginger.

Divide half the berries among 4 wineglasses, top with half the cream.

Add remaining berries and top with remaining cream.

Garnish with the rest of the ginger and mint.

Makes 4 servings.

BLUEBERRY BUCKLE

2 cups plus 1 tablespoons sifted flour, divided

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1 pint blueberries

Whipped cream flavored with rum or vanilla extract

Topping:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup sifted flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 8-inch spring form pan. Set aside.

Sift together 2 cups flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg. Add flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with milk.

In different bowl, toss berries with remaining 1 tablespoon flour and fold into batter. Pour into prepared pan. Set aside.

For topping combine butter, sugar, flour and cinnamon with a fork to make a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle over batter.

Bake at least one hour or until the cake tests done when a tester comes out clean.

Cool cake. Remove from pan. Serve with whipped cream.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

- From Lee Bailey's Country Desserts

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