Tuesday, July 29, 2014

In Season in West Michigan: Blueberries

Neatly planted rows of red-branched blueberry bushes line the roads of southwest Michigan, and it’s no surprise. This small fruit holds the title of the second most popular in the United States – first place going to the deliciously sweet strawberry. Blueberries hold a place in the hearts of all Americans as one of the only three fruits native to North America (along with concord grapes and cranberries). The earliest settlers also enjoyed wild blueberries for its many culinary and medicinal purposes. They even boiled the fruit with milk to create gray paint!

It wasn’t until the early 20th century, however, that we were able to commercially cultivate this superfruit, thanks to the careful work of Elizabeth White in New Jersey. Partnering with the USDA's Dr. Frederick Coville, she developed a bush that could be successfully planted and farmed, giving birth to the industry’s annual 200 million pound blueberry crop.

Growing Season

In Michigan, blueberry harvest typically stretches from mid-July to late September. The plant’s flowers are white, pink or red and bell-shaped. Blueberry bushes typically begin bearing fruit in mid-growing season with berries shifting from pale green to red-purple and finally blue-purple when ripe.


The acidic soils and low temperatures of southwest Allegan, Berrien, Muskegon, Ottawa and Van Buren counties create the primary growing region in Michigan.


Select plump berries with a blue-purple color; blueberries don’t typically ripen once picked. An easy way to harvest berries is to gently rub a blueberry bunch, allowing the ripe berries to drop into a bucket. Unripe berries will remain on the bush.


Once picked, place berries in an open container, allowing moisture to escape. As with most soft fruits, blueberries should not be washed until just before use to prevent softening.
Fresh: Chilled berries will last between ten and 14 days.

Frozen: Arrange unwashed berries in a single layer and place in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag or container. They will keep for one year.Nutrition
Blueberries are delightfully nutritious and have a reputation for fighting infection, heart disease, and some cancers. Not only do they pack a diverse menu of dietary fiber, Vitamin A & C, niacin, iron and manganese, but they contain only 84 calories in a single cup with no cholesterol or fat.

Today blueberries are earning their superfruit status for their high level of antioxidants. Particularly high in wild species, studies have shown that the blueberry’s various antioxidants and phytochemicals including anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, resveratrol, flavonols, and tannins – all good things your body loves - inhibit cancer cell development.

Did You Know?

  • If all the blueberries grown in North America in one year were spread out in a single layer, they would cover a four-lane highway stretching from New York to Chicago.
  • The blueberry muffin is the official muffin of Minnesota.
  • The blueberry is the state fruit of New Jersey and the official berry of Nova Scotia.
  • Indians in the Northwest Territory smoked wild blueberries to preserve them for the winter.
  • North America produces nearly 90% of world’s blueberries.
  • Blueberry flavored Jelly Belly was created for Ronald Reagan's presidential inauguration in 1981 when over three tons of Jelly Belly beans were consumed during the festivities.

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