Thursday, May 24, 2012

Blueberries: Summertime Treat in the South

Does anything make summertime more enjoyable than eating fresh blueberries, particularly those that you picked yourself? Chilled, fresh blueberries are such a delightful treat on a hot day. Visiting a you-pick-it location helps you appreciate the berries much more than simply buying them at a grocery store.

You-pick-it locations are plentiful in the South.

Because blueberries are grown throughout the South, being able to pick them as they ripen is easy. Most states, such as my home state of North Carolina, help by offering maps and directories of you-pick-locations on their agricultural websites. (North Carolina has more than 100 you-pick blueberry locations.) In addition, local you-pick-it farms get extra publicity in the South when official state festivals celebrate the blueberry in late May or in June.

The calyx forms the shape
of a five-pointed star.
Picking fresh blueberries helps to connect to the culture and history of the region. One of the few fruits native to North America, the blueberry has been important for sustaining life in this region for centuries. Ripe blueberries were gathered in the forests by several Native American tribes before they also began to cultivate them. In addition to being a food source, the berries themselves and parts of the plant were used as medicine. Even the calyx, the blossom end of a berry that forms the shape of a five-pointed star, has contributed to regional lore as the legend about the Great Spirit sending “star berries” during a famine to relieve the hunger of children was retold.

Although lowbush berries (often referred to as “wild blueberries”) are native to other parts of the world, highbush blueberries are native to the North America. Even though more than 38 states grow the blueberry, only rabbiteye varieties (Vaccinium ashei) are native to the American South (from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Texas). These varieties are called rabbiteye, according to Horticulture magazine, because before turning blue they turn pink (like the color of a white rabbit). With all the varieties grown in North America, about 90% of the worldwide blueberry harvest comes from Canada and the United States. 

In my home state of North Carolina the highbush varieties can be grown anywhere from the mountains to the coast. In addition, rabbiteye varieties (which are more drought and heat resistant) can be grown in the piedmont and coastal plain.

You-pick-it bushes ready in North Carolina in late May

With the health benefits of the blueberry continually being extolled, it continues to increase in popularity. The average U.S. adult consumption has almost doubled in the last ten years. The blueberry is now the second most popular berry in the United States (second only to strawberries).

About half of each year’s production is eaten fresh rather than processed. (Fresh production has outpaced process production since 2002.) In addition, eating blueberries raw is recommended by many health experts because this way provides the best flavor and greatest nutritional benefits.

Before: Scale before picking
After:  Reward (8 pounds) after an hour  of picking

Although blueberries make great cobblers, breads, and jellies, they are thoroughly enjoyable by the handful when they have been recently picked. Because they are 85 percent water (compared to the higher and more recognized percentage of 92 for the watermelon), they are a great way to satisfy a thirst as well as meet the recommended daily water intake. That’s why visiting a you-pick-it location is so worthwhile to celebrate the start of summer.

If you don't have time to pick your own, at least buy
directly from the grower at a stand or farmers' market.

1 comment:

  1. Very informative. I wonder what 8 lbs will run you?