It's blueberry season, and boy, do I have the blues.....blue fingers, blue nails, blue towels.....blueberries do stain, but are they ever worth it.
My sister recently married the largest supplier of blueberry nursery stock in the world. Dan Finch, of Finch Nursery, has had blueberry farms in Spain and Chile, as well as his test fields in Bailey, NC. Last week, they invited the hubby and I down to go blueberry picking, which Steve had never done. Amy and I ate about as many berries as we put in our baskets, but the guys quickly tired of picking them by hand. Dan retrieved a tarp, and Steve shook. They were rewarded with a bounty of berries - both beautiful, plump and ripe, along with the pink and green ones, twigs, leaves and other detritus. Then the question was how to get rid of the unwanted.
Dan is also a premier potter. His solution was turn on the huge fan in his pottery workshop, and allow the wind generated to blow the twigs and leaves out. Didn't work real well, fellows!
We wound up handpicking through the berries the next day, all day, as a matter of fact. But it was worth our efforts. Eat a few, pick out some leaves, eat a few more.....
I froze gallons and gallons of berries. First, I placed a layer of the clean berries on a large cookie sheet for at least an hour. Then I placed them in freezer storage bags. Done this way, they won't stick together in the freezer and you can then pull out as many as needed, say a cup or two for muffins or smoothies. Frozen, they're great to just pop in your mouth!
We've had blueberry cobbler, blueberries on granola, blueberry lemon tart, and even tried a savory blueberry sauce with rosemary and thyme to serve with a pork tenderloin. We all decided it needed some oomph....some hot peppers. Next to re-try is a blueberry salsa which would be dynamite paired with pork as well as chicken.
ABOUT NC BLUEBERRIES
Last year I tasted my way through Dan's test field, amazed at the difference in taste from one row to the next. Some were sweeter, some more tart, some smaller, some darker when ripe.
Most of NC's commercial crop are highbush varieties grown near the coast in boggy soil, ready about mid-May and harvested through the end of July. Varieties in the western part of the state get ripe in August. Wild varieties can be picked along the sunny ridges of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but be wary of bears who love this treat.
Growing blueberries for mass market in NC began in 1936 when a frustrated farmer from Cooperstown, NY bought a thousand acres in the southeastern corner of the state near Wilmington. Because the land was considered worthless swamp, it went for a dollar an acre. Blueberry bushes were brought down from the lowlands of New jersey, and just thrived in their new Southern boggy location. Soon other newcomers and local farmers joined in, and trains were sent up North loaded with NC berries picked during early summer, which supplemented the later crop picked in New Jersey in August.
Now, with global transport, you just might find that some of those blueberries sold in grocery stores during the winter were more than likely grown in Chile from blueberry stock supplied by Finch Nursery in NC.
TIPS FOR HANDLING BLUEBERRIES
- Refrigerate blueberries, covered
- Don't wash until you're ready to use. Moisture causes them to mold.
- Use or freeze within 10 days
- To keep blueberries from streaking batter, stir blueberries, either fresh or still frozen, into the batter last.
- For pancakes or waffles, pour batter onto griddle, then add blueberries. They'll look prettier, be more evenly distributed, and easier to flip.
In THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, I've got a dynamite recipe for lemon curd, blueberry tart. It's quite a pucker-producer, and extremely pretty. Makes a terrific dessert to show off your culinary skills, but it's not THAT difficult.
Here's that Blueberry Salsa recipe I said I'd do again with pork, but it's good with grilled chicken, or to mix in with chicken salad:
1 cup blueberries, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh jalapeno, to taste
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons lime juice
salt and freshly ground pepper pepper to taste
Stir all ingredients together and let sit for 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld.
Copyrighted, EFW 2008