Blueberries are relative newcomers to the farmers markets, as they are to the entire state as a commercial crop. However, they have been around for a long time here in the U.S. and in Western Europe. The Native Americans were using them when Plymouth was settled by the Pilgrims, and it is believed they were on the menu for the first Thanksgiving. Native Americans ate them fresh, but also dried them and used them in puddings and “cakes” as well as powdering them and using them with meat, grains, and in soups.
Wild blueberry plants were first cultivated as a commercial crop in 1920 in New Jersey, eventually leading to blueberries being the number two berry crop in the USA. For many years, blueberries were imported from Michigan, Indiana, New Jersey, and the Pacific Northwest. Today we can enjoy them from local farms as blueberries are really taking off as a berry crop in California.
Blueberries are in the heather family, and the hybrid that works best in California seems to be the Southern Highbush type, which is a low-chill plant adapted to mild winters and warmer summers. California berries are firmer, crisper, and sweeter due to more sunshine. Domesticated berries, by the way, can be four times larger than their wild relatives. Fruiting times will vary by altitude and latitude, and around here the season runs mid-April through August. Paul Tao of P&K Farms, whose farm is in the Elkhorn Slough area, normally has berries around March. Paul explained that you need various varieties to get the plants to really fruit and to ensure a steady production over a longer time.
Savory Food Pairings with Blueberries
Many recipes use blueberries as an ingredient for desserts or sweets. I like to play with norms by taking items from the sweet side of the kitchen and using it in the savory side. I enjoy the deep flavor of blueberries and their subtle sweetness in stuffings and as a sauce with duck or pork chops. Mushrooms pair up wonderfully with blueberries as well. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy them tossed into my granola or pancakes, nor would I turn down blueberry scones or blueberry buckle, but I do want you to think of using blueberries as a savory as well.
How to Select Blueberries
When selecting blueberries, know that they usually have a bloom on them that looks like frost. This is fine and actually helps protect the berry. Look for berries that have taut skin, dark color, and pull any that are damaged, mushy, or moldy. Size is not necessarily an indicator of flavor. I keep mine in the refrigerator in a plastic tub lined with paper towels on top and bottom with a tight fitting lid, and I try to eat them within 4 days. If you find yourself with a surfeit of blues, lay them on a flat pan and freeze them. Freezing them flat keeps them from forming big clumps and allows you to take out only what you need. Once frozen, transfer to a zipper bag and suck out the air before freezing. Do not wash the berries before freezing as this will make the berries mushy.
Blueberries are good for you; high in manganese (14%), B6 (8%), C (12%), K (18%), and 2.4 grams of dietary fiber. They are lower on the glycemic index at 40, and there are current studies showing them to be beneficial for anything from cognitive issues in older people to being good for cardiovascular health and fighting cancer as they are loaded with antioxidants.
We are lucky to have several vendors selling blueberries. Look for them at P&K Farms, Borba Farms, Cortez FarmsB, Vasquez Farms, and Triple Delight Blueberries.
RECIPES: Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes, Blueberry Vinegar, Blueberry Oat Bars, Baby Spinach Salad with Blueberries, Feta Cheese, Slivered Almonds, and Berry Mint Dressing, Honey Blueberry Pork Chops, Blueberry Coffee Cake, Blueberry Cake Muffins, Stuffing with Blueberries, Mushrooms, and Nuts, Blueberry Sauce for Meat