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How to make the most of fresh fruit



Published: Wed, June 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Delicious berries are nutritious.

By ALLISON ASKINS

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- It's a cool June morning and the berries at Margie Davis' blueberry farm in Eastover, S.C., hang heavy on the bush, awaiting the warmth of the sun. Cooler temperatures and unseasonable rains mean the berries will be late ripening this year, but Davis still hopes hers will be ready for picking by the end of the month.

The delicious, dark blue berries have gained popularity in the 20 years since Davis and her late husband first grew them. Now the phone starts ringing at the end of May with folks eager to find out when they can come pick.

The same is true at Berry Hill Farm in Lexington, S.C., where Carolyn and Bill Evans love to escort visitors into the fields to pick their berries.

"There's a big question mark this year because of the weather," Evans said, noting that her berries usually turn blue by now.

Evans hopes that if the sun keeps shining, her berries also will be ready by the end of June. But call first. You may need to wait until the first of July.

When is blueberry season?

In South Carolina, berries typically are available mid-June through August. Berries from other parts of the country can be found through October. Blueberries are a top crop in America. In fact, America accounts for 90 percent of the world's blueberries. The largest producers are in Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, North Carolina, Georgia and Washington. And did you know that July is National Blueberry Month?

What's the difference between low-bush and high-bush blueberries?

Most blueberries grown in the United States are high-bush blueberries -- berries grown on bushes that stand high off the ground. Low-bush blueberries are grown in Canada and some Northeastern states.

What makes blueberries blue?

A water-soluble pigment called anthocyanin.

Where do you buy blueberries?

Fresh and frozen berries are available in groceries year round. You also may buy them in season at roadside markets and at berry farms. See the list below for local farms.

How do you select the best berries?

You want firm, plump, deep blue berries with a slight silver sheen, or as Carolyn Evans tells her customers: "You want them to look like they've been dusted with baby powder." Avoid berries that are moist or soggy. Reddish berries are not yet ripe.

How do you hand-pick berries?

At AA Farm in Columbia, owner John Aiken has a great trick he passes along to customers. He helps them free both hands for picking by placing buckets attached to 3-foot bungee cord around their necks. Customers then are instructed to gently pull berries from the branches of the blueberry bushes and drop them into the bucket. (Just in case he doesn't have enough cords, you might want to take your own. Aiken has plenty of buckets, though.)

"They release at the touch if they're ripe," Aiken said. Blueberry bushes are thorn free.

Can you freeze blueberries?

Yes. They are delicious to eat frozen, and frozen berries cook beautifully, too. As soon as the berries are picked, they should be placed -- unwashed -- in freezer bags or plastic containers and placed in the freezer. Remove from the freezer as you need them and then rinse with water.

What is the nutritional value of blueberries?

If there were a food dream team, blueberries would be the captain. Blueberries contain no fat and only about 80 calories per cup. They are rich in antioxidants and a good source of fiber and vitamin C. Research indicates that these tiny berries are effective in fighting disease. They also may be linked to improved brain function. Also, preliminary studies at Rutgers University indicate that blueberries may help prevent urinary tract infections because they prevent bacteria from sticking to the lining of the bladder.

Where can I go to learn more about blueberries?

Try www.blueberry.org, the Web site for the U.S. High Bush Blueberry Council.

Also, AA Farms has a Web site that includes recipes and other information, www.scblueberries.com.

TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS:

UDo not wash blueberries before you put them in the freezer. Washing before freezing toughens the berries. When you are ready to use frozen berries, rinse them after pulling them from the freezer. --Margie Davis, Blueberry Hill Farms, Eastover, S.C.

UBe sure to wear socks and shoes for berry-picking. You will be walking through brushy fields and will want your feet and ankles to be covered. --John Aiken, AA Farms on Bluff Road

BEGINNER:

BLUEBERRY FRUIT SHAKE

2 cups frozen blueberries

1 cup frozen mixed fruit

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In food processor or blender, place blueberries, mixed fruit, milk, sugar and vanilla extract. Whirl mixture until smooth. Serve immediately.

Makes 3 servings.

--From the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council

Nutritional information per serving: Calories, 144.9; protein, 3.6 grams; carbohydrates, 29.2 grams; total fat, 2 grams; cholesterol, 6.1 milligrams; saturated fat, 2 grams; dietary fiber, 2.6 grams; sodium, 49 milligrams; sugar, 14.8 grams; vitamin A, 92 retinol equivalents; vitamin C, 14.9 milligrams; calcium, 110.5 milligrams; iron, 0.5fmilligram; alcohol, 0 grams

INTERMEDIATE:

BLUEBERRY COBBLER

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

4 cups fresh or frozen, thawed blueberries (measure before thawing)

1 can (12.4-ounce) refrigerated cinnamon buns

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly grease a round 11/2 quart baking dish.

In baking dish, combine sugar and cornstarch; stir in blueberries. Separate rolls and arrange, cinnamon-sugar side down, over the berries. Note: We recommend halving the rolls. The full roll is almost too much breading for the amount of blueberries in this recipe. Bake until rolls are golden brown and blueberries bubble, about 25-30 minutes. (If cinnamon rolls begin to brown too soon, cover with foil.)

Drizzle with prepared frosting and serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings

Nutritional information per serving: Calories, 104.9; protein, 0.9 gram; carbohydrates, 24.3 grams; total fat, 0.4 gram; cholesterol, 0 milligrams; saturated fat, 0 grams; dietary fiber, 1.5 gram; sodium, 138.7 milligrams; sugar, 12.8 grams; vitamin A, 100.9fretinol equivalents; vitamin C, 14 milligrams; calcium, 2 milligrams; iron, 3 milligrams; alcohol, 0 grams

--From the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council

ADVANCED:

BERRY BLUEBERRY CHUTNEY

4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

1 can (16-ounce) whole-berry cranberry sauce

1/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

In medium, nonreactive saucepan, combine blueberries, cranberry sauce, sugar, balsamic vinegar, orange peel, ginger, and red and black peppers. Bring to a boil; boil uncovered, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, 15-20 minutes.

Pour into clean jars; cover and refrigerate for as long as 3 weeks, or place in covered plastic containers and freeze.

Serve with cheese and crackers, roasted or grilled turkey, chicken or pork.

Makes 24 servings (3 cups)

Nutritional information per serving: Calories, 52.6; protein, 0.2 gram; carbohydrates, 13.5 grams; total fat, 0.1 gram; cholesterol, 0 milligrams; saturated fat, 0 grams; dietary fiber, 0.9 gram; sodium, 35.7 milligrams; sugar, 4.4 grams; vitamin A, 4.4 retinol equivalents; vitamin C, 3.7 milligrams; calcium, 2.6 milligrams; iron, 0.1 milligram; alcohol, 0 grams

--From Lewis & amp; Neale Inc. for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council




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