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Blueberries: Kitchen Basics

Blueberry muffin

When it comes to fresh picking and eating, there are about 30 varieties of blueberry worthy of your attention. These can be divided into three categories: the highbush, the lowbush, and the rabbiteye.

Highbush blueberries are the most common blueberries. These are the large, plump and sweet berries with which you are most familiar. Highbush blueberries grow from 3 to 6 feet tall and are found in places where there is acid soil and chilly winters, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

Lowbush blueberries are small intensely flavored berries that grow on low bushes that stand just 6 to 18 inches tall. These blueberries grow wild from Minnesota to Maine and in the Maritime Provinces of Canada–Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Not surprisingly, you will find lowbush blueberries usually sold as “wild blueberries.”

Rabbiteye blueberries are most common in the southern and southeastern regions of the United States. These plants grow to 6 feet tall and do not require a cold winter to set fruit. Rabbiteye blueberries are pink before they ripen; the same color as a rabbit’s eye.

The large, plump, light blue berries you find at the market are probably highbush varieties. Popular high-bush cultivars include ‘Earliblue’, which ripens in late spring, ‘Bluecrop’ and ‘Berkeley’, which ripen during the summer, and ‘Blueray’, which ripens from mid-summer to late summer. Highbush blueberries are now commonly grown in Europe, Australia, and parts of South America.

The round, smooth-skinned, blue-colored blueberry grows on 1-year-old branches of established perennial shrubs. Blueberry fruits mature about 60 to 80 days after clusters of white, tubular flowers appear and are pollinated. The blueberry harvest begins when the berries are full-colored, sweet, plump, and easily pulled from the cluster.

Local season. The peak harvest season for blueberries is spring through late summer depending upon the variety.

Choose. Select firm, large plump full-colored blueberries that are deep purple-blue to blue-black with a silver frost. Reddish berries are not ripe. Color is the best indicator of maturity and flavor. Avoid blueberries that are green.

Avoid blueberries that are dull, mushy, or moldy. Avoid juice stained containers that contain too soft berries.

Amount. One pound of blueberries equals about 4 cups.

Store. Blueberries are best eaten fresh. They will keep in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for about a week. Dry blueberries will keep in the refrigerator for 5 or 6 days.

Freeze unwashed blueberries in a single layer on a shallow pan, then transfer then to a plastic bag and store in the freezer for up to 6 months.  See also How to Freeze Blueberries

Prepare. Blueberries should not be washed after picking. Rinse them in cool water and blot them dry with a paper towel just before using. Place them in a bowl of water and swish them around to remove dirt and rotted berries. Blot with a dry paper towel.

Cook. Blueberries are a popular ingredients in baked good such as pies, cobblers, muffins, cakes, and tarts. Blueberries can be made into jellies and jams.

Serve:

  • Add fresh to fruit salads, yogurt, or ice cream.
  • Combine with raspberries and strawberries and serve fresh.
  • Serve fresh on pancakes or with cream.
  • Use in jams, jellies, or preserves.
  • Bake in pies, tarts, cobblers, coffee cakes, and muffins.

Here are a couple of blueberry recipes to try:

Fluffy Blueberry Pancakes Recipe

Blueberry Crumble Recipe

Flavor partners. Blueberries have a flavor affinity for cinnamon, crème fraîche, ginger, lemon, mace, melons, nectarines, nutmeg, orange, sour cream, walnuts, and yogurt.

Beverage pairings: Still or effervescent water, lemon- or lime-based drinks, Muscat, Riesling, sparkling wine.

Nutrition. Blueberries are rich in vitamin C. One cup of blueberries has about 90 calories.

The botanical name for highbush blueberry is Vaccinium corymbosum; for lowbush blueberry is V. angustifolium; for the rabbiteye blueberry V. Ashei.

The European bilberry is a tiny dark blueish-purple summer berry. In North America it is known as the whortleberry. The botanical name for the bilberry is Vaccinium myrtillus.

Also of interest: How to Plant, Grow, Prune, and Harvest Blueberries

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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