Beautiful, Bountiful, Beneficial, BLUEBERRIES -July 2013

by: Marianne R. Stanton

If there is one fruit that defines summer in the Northeast, it is the blueberry. Let Georgia have its peaches and the Deep South its watermelon. When it is a burst of sweet flavor we Yankees want in our summer cakes and pies, not to mention as a snack eaten right out of our hand, it is the blueberry we choose.

Blueberries thrive in the sandy soil of New England and especially on our little sandbar 30 miles out at sea. Nantucket is prime blueberry-growing country due to its naturally acidic soils. The central moors from Polpis Road to Milestone Road and sandplain grasslands from Miacomet to the Atlantic are loaded with low-bush blueberry bushes.

Blueberry bushes are easily identifiable by their rusttipped green foliage, which blankets the moors and sandplain grasslands in the summer. Creamy white bell-shaped flowers appear on the bushes in late June and early July in advance of the berries, which soon appear. The foliage and flowers are so lovely that many landscapers are known to use highbush blueberries in their naturalized plantings.

Before the building boom began in the 1980s, the island was loaded with berry-picking sites, and every islander who considered themselves a forager had their own secret spot, not to be shared with anyone but family. Back then, there was an unspoken taboo about building on the moors. People wouldn’t think of desecrating this hauntingly beautiful center of the island, but times have changed, and many of the old blueberry-picking fields have been replaced by houses with manicured lawns. Still, viable pockets of berry-picking spots have endured in many locations.

Walk along any of our nature trails bordered by water in midto late July and you’ll see plenty of highbush blueberries, favored by those who don’t want the backache associated with berry-picking on the low bushes. Highbush blueberries tend to bear fruit later in the season, at the end of July and into early August, extending the season for those who love this dusky blue fruit.

The nutritional benefits of wild blueberries are many, as they are chock full of fiber, minerals and antioxidants, the latter which combat free radicals in the body which are believed to cause cell damage that leads to cancer, heart disease and maladies related to aging.

To reap these benefits, incorporate blueberries into your first meal of the day. Toss a handful of wild berries in your morning cereal, or in a fruit salad of sliced nectarines, blueberries and wild mint. Mash some organic raspberries (also good for you) into a cup of Greek yogurt and make a parfait with a cup of wild blueberries, some good-quality granola and sliced almonds. Or, make a smoothie. Put a cup of low-fat milk, almond milk or soymilk in a blender along with a cup of blueberries, a tablespoon of ground flax seed, a scoop of protein powder, a few ice cubes and half a banana. You’ll have a nutritious drink that will carry you all the way to lunchtime.

Eating blueberries in their natural, state – raw – is most beneficial. The fruit has a tart-sweet taste, which may explain its low glycemic index. This makes the blueberry a good fruit choice for those who must watch blood-sugar levels. They are also low in calories, registering only 70 per cup and delivering 6.5 grams of fiber and only 10 grams of natural sugar. A cup of blueberries also deliveries 200 percent of your daily requirement of manganese, which aids in bone growth and joint development, among other things.

While eating berries raw is best for you from a health perspective, most people enjoy blueberries in baked goods such as muffins, pies, cakes, cupcakes, cobblers, buckles and the like. What’s a New England summer without a blueberry pie cooling on a kitchen windowsill, or a Fourth of July without a tart or cake decorated in the USA’s tricolors, represented by blueberries, strawberries and a cloud of meringue or whipped cream?

In the following pages we have a handful of some of my favorite ways to use blueberries in desserts.

Marianne’s Blueberry Cake is a favorite end of the meal for summer cookouts, but a dessert that I make all year long. The blueberry sauce with cassis is a great topping for ice cream, slices of pound cake or atop a berry compote or dish of sliced nectarines. I love the tri-berry cobbler, which was inspired by a Nigella Lawson recipe. And the lemon blueberry bread is terrific for French toast, just the way the old Jared Coffin House used to serve it.

So, grab a pail and head out to the moors for an afternoon of picking, or if worst comes to worst, grab your grocery basket and make a beeline for the produce aisle of any of our island grocery stores, and try out some of these recipes that are just perfect for summer.

Marianne Stanton is the editor and publisher of Nantucket Today and The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821. She writes frequently about food, travel and lifestyle for both publications.

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