Last week I drove past the now-defunct blueberry farm where at least a couple of times each season I would stop to pick several buckets of my favorite summer fruit. It reminded me that I have not yet paid homage to the berry. Though July is National Blueberry Month, it is never too late to celebrate this tiny fruit that is packed with nutritional benefits.
Abundant this time of year, the succulent superfood is believed to have many health benefits. With a flavor that ranges between tart and sweet, blueberries can be used in myriad ways; the plump ones seem to be the sweeter ones.
There are two types of blueberries, lowbush and highbush. The ones we purchase in supermarkets, farm stands and markets are usually the latter. The lowbush variety are smaller and are processed into jams, juices, pie fillings, purees, etc.
According to the Blueberry Council, 10 states produce 98 percent of U.S.-grown blueberries. For those of us who crave blueberries year-round, Florida berries’ peak production season is March and April; and during our winter, South America is experiencing summer, and their crops are at their peak.
Wild blueberries are the lowbush type and are not planted, as they grow naturally. Living in New England, many of us visit Maine, known for its wild blueberries. Did you know the Pine Tree State provides the bulk of the U.S. wild blueberry crop?
I spoke with Julia Rutland, author of “Blueberries: 50 Tried & True Recipes” (2019, Adventure Publications, $16.95), who gave me a quick insight into the fruit. It was interesting to learn that blueberry plants appeared in Maine more than 10,000 years ago when glaciers receded. She writes, “The first scrubby plants grew out of the stressed landscape. Native Americans harvested the berries, followed by European settlers, and yet the crop remained a local bounty. This changed during the Civil War when the berries were harvested, canned, and shipped to feed the Union Army.”
An avid backyard blueberry grower, she suggests buying at least two different varieties of plants, making sure they are conducive to the local climate and will produce the berries at the same time (early or mid-season). Since birds like blueberries as much as she does, she covers the bushes with netting when the berries are beginning to ripen. She writes, “Hang aluminum pie plates from strings to discourage birds and other animals from enjoying a berry buffet.” Before getting into the recipes, Rutland gives planting, growing and gardening advice for those who want to try their green thumb growing blueberries. Those who will leave the growing to the farmers will find information about buying blueberries helpful. The pointers on how to freeze and cook with fresh or frozen ones will help your recipes using the blue gems come out perfect. One hint: toss the berries in a bit of flour to help suspend them in the middle, otherwise they might sink to the bottom before the baked item is done.
Whether you are making a crumble, crisp, brown betty, cobbler, grunt or buckle … or preparing a drink, salad or savory main dish or eating them as is, your taste buds will perk up with the burst of flavor. For the recipe for blueberry linzer cookies, visit https://bit.ly/2CZs0S6.
The headnote says, “This spicy condiment isn’t ‘hot,’ even though it contains red pepper flakes. The rich and tangy flavor pairs well with meats. For an easy but special appetizer, pour this chutney over a block of cream cheese, and serve with crackers or gingersnaps.”
Combine vinegar, sugars, apple, ginger, mustard seeds, zest, cinnamon, salt, red pepper flakes and cloves in a large pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves.
Increase heat and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 30 minutes until mixture is reduced and slightly syrupy.
Stir in blueberries. Bring to a simmer and cook 45 minutes, stirring periodically. Transfer to canning jars and store in refrigerator. For shelf-stable storage or gifts, process for 10 minutes in boiling water. Makes 3 cups.
The headnote says, “There’s a lot of wiggle room in this recipe. If berries are tart, taste and then add a bit more Simple Syrup. And adjust the amount of tequila with less if you want a mild cocktail, more for a potent kick. For a fun and slushy blueberry limeade, omit liqueurs and add a bit of water to make it a drinkable texture.”
Combine blueberries, Simple Syrup and lime juice in a heavy-duty blender. Process until berries are finely chopped and mixture is almost smooth.
Stir in tequila, triple sec and ice. Process until ice is finely crushed and mixture is slushy. Pour into glasses; garnish, if desired. Makes about 6 cups.
Simple Syrup: Combine 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Cool; transfer to a jar and refrigerate until ready to use.
Blueberries pair very well with citrus. I added orange zest to this recipe; otherwise, the orange flavor might be too subtle. Try this bread toasted and spread with softened cream cheese.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium-size bowl. Set aside.
Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well. Stir in orange zest, orange juice, milk and vanilla.
Stir flour mixture into butter mixture, just until dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not overmix.) Fold in berries and walnuts. Spoon batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until center is dry when tested with a wooden pick (add 5 to 10 minutes if using frozen berries). Cool in pan 10 minutes; remove loaf and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Makes 1 (9-inch) loaf.
The headnote says, “This recipe makes good use of leftover rotisserie chicken. You probably don’t have 4 full cups of leftover chicken — so divide ingredients in half and use what you have. While you can use frozen and thawed blueberries, I prefer dried or fresh because they won’t water out and dilute the flavor (or turn the mixture a strange purple-gray color). For a tangy twist, substitute Greek yogurt for mayonnaise and sour cream.”
Combine chicken, celery, blueberries, nuts and onion in a large bowl.
Stir together mayonnaise, sour cream, honey, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Stir mayonnaise mixture into chicken mixture. Makes 6 cups.
The headnote says, “The rich, sweet-savory sauce makes an ideal complement to the rich taste of salmon. It’s also a nice pairing with grilled game, such as venison or duck, as well as everyday meats such as chicken thighs or quarters.”
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes or until softened.
Stir in blueberries, wine, vinegar, sugar, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until mixture is reduced by half with a syrupy texture. Strain mixture through a fine wire-mesh sieve set over a bowl, pressing mixture with spoon or spatula. Discard pulp. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, stirring until blended into sauce. Makes 3/4 cup.
“Summer Saturdays” noon-4 p.m., participating New Haven restaurants will offer two-course prix-fixe lunch menus for $20 (excluding beverage, tax, and gratuity). Reservations are required. Other eateries and cafes, including coffee shops and bakeries, offer 20 percent off an item. Local musicians will perform live at select spots throughout the city. Special parking rates are available. Participating restaurants and other retail shops at https://www.infonewhaven.com/new-haven-summer-saturdays.
Basta Trattoria, 1006 Chapel St., New Haven, 203-772-1715, Pasta Trio, menu at https://bit.ly/2WPnmwy, choose three different pastas and three different sauces for $20 per person. Served for lunch (noon- 3 p.m.) Saturdays and Sundays for dining indoor or outdoor. www.bastatrattoria.com
Geronimo Tequila Bar and Southwest Grill, 271 Crown St. New Haven, 203-777-7700, happy hour from noon to 4 p.m., with $1 sliders, $1 drafts and $2 cans and bottles. These specials are available for dine-in only (indoor or outdoor). https://bit.ly/2ZW5cek
Shell and Bones, 100 S. Water St., New Haven, 203-787-3466, re-introduces happy hour, Monday through Thursday from noon to 4 p.m, offering $1 oysters, half-price bottles of wine and $1 drafts. Specials available for dine-in only (indoor or outdoor). www.shellandbones.com