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July is blueberry month

Diann Douglas: University of Florida Extension/IFAS Madison County

Blueberries are abundant during the summer; in our area we see them as early as June, although July is the official National Blueberry Month. We have a number of local u-picks, so now is the time to gather a bucket or two. And, if you prefer shopping in air conditioning, you can find good prices in the grocery stores. Enjoy fresh blueberries in your meals this summer and preserve some for use throughout the fall and winter.

Blueberries are packed full of nutrients; a great nutritional value for your dollar.    One ½ cup serving is only 80 calories and gives you 25 percent of the Vitamin C you need for a day. They are also a good source of fiber (needed for digestion) and manganese which plays a role in bone development. In recent years, research has shown that blueberries are high in antioxidants called polyphenols, which are linked to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

Whether you pick them off the bush or select them in the grocery store, look for firm, plump berries with smooth skins. According to National Blueberry Council, size isn’t an indicator of maturity, rather look for a deep purple-blue to a blue-black; a ripe blueberry will also have a silvery cast to its deep blue color. If the color looks red, it’s a sign of immaturity.  Berries that look shriveled are over mature and losing their taste and nutritional value.

Blueberries store well in the refrigerator for up to ten days. Keep them covered and wash them before eating. Blueberries are a great snack, they can be added to cereal for breakfast or they make a great addition to a salad. Many cooks use them in muffins, pancakes and waffles.  To make a great topping for ice cream and desserts, sprinkle a small amount of sugar over the berries and slowly cook then in a sauce pan for 20 minutes. Blueberries also make great pies, cobblers and frozen desserts.

Blueberries can be preserved for future use, freezing or canning are popular methods. Freezing is easy, but don’t wash them before freezing.  It may seem contradictory to every food safety rule in the book, but there is always an exception and this is one of those times. Washing blueberries before freezing will cause the berries to be as tough as shoe leather, so refrain from putting them under water. A simple freezing method is to spread berries on a cookie sheet and freeze, once frozen pour into a freezer safe container. When you are ready to use them, the berries pour individually and it’s easy to measure the amount you need and then wash them before preparation. For canning directions, call the Extension office at 973-4138 and we will send you a copy of the directions for safe canning methods.

Blueberries are a great way to get more fruit into your family’s diet.  Be creative and serve them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  For more information on serving nutritious food, contact the Madison County Extension Service.

The University of Florida Extension/IFAS – Madison County is an Equal Employment Opportunity Institution.

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