Not every blueberry is created equal — there are a lot of varieties, with different flavor profiles.
For tart, firm berries, go for the early-season Emeralds, says Manuel Jimenez, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm adviser in Tulare County, Calif. A softer and sweeter option is the Jewel. The Reveille has lots of sweetness, while Southmoons have "the best flavor and sweetness combination," he says.
Enjoying all of these varieties depends on selecting good ones. Look for full, rounded berries covered with the white, powdery coating called bloom. Avoid shriveled and leaky berries.
At home, store them in the refrigerator, and do not wash them until just before using. They'll keep in the refrigerator for five to seven days, or you can place them in sealed plastic bags in the freezer.
"If you're going to freeze berries, don't wash them before freezing," says Kingsburg, Calif., blueberry farmer Gayle Willems. If wet, the berries will stick together and get icy. They will keep in the freezer for up to a year, but like all other frozen foods, it's best to eat them within a few months.
Blueberries are known for their high levels of antioxidants, which help prevent cell damage. "Ounce for ounce, blueberries provide more antioxidants than any other fresh fruit or vegetable," Dana Jacobi writes in her "12 Best Foods Cookbook."
To get the most health benefits from blueberries, eat them plain and uncooked. "Heat diminishes the benefits of the phytonutrients they contain," Jacobi writes.
For those compelled to tinker in the kitchen, the sweet-tart flavor of blueberries works well in sweet and savory dishes. A classic combination is blueberries, lemon and mascarpone cheese, which makes an easy topping for cookies. On the less sweet side, blueberries add a fruity punch to corn bread. And with thyme, shallots and lemon juice, these little berries are a great sauce for meats.
Prep: 10 minutes
Makes: about 16 cookies
This is a versatile formula for a quick dessert. Substitute sugar cookies for shortbread, and try different flavor combinations, such as blueberries and bits of candied ginger.
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest, from about 2 lemons
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon fine-grained sea salt
16 homemade or store-bought shortbread cookies, about 2 1/2 inches wide
6 ounces blueberries
Combine mascarpone, confectioners' sugar and lemon zest in a bowl. Add 1/8 teaspoon sea salt; mix well. Taste and add more salt, if necessary. Spread mascarpone mixture on cookies; top with blueberries.
Nutrition information: Per cookie: 155 calories, 62% of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 23 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 86 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Savory blueberry sauce
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Makes: 6 servings
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme)
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups blueberries
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat; add shallots. Cook until shallots are translucent, 5 minutes. Stir in thyme, vinegar and lemon juice. Reduce heat to low; add blueberries. Cook, gently stirring, just until a few blueberries begin to release their juices. (Most of them should retain their shape.) Remove from heat; season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with pork chops or turkey cutlets.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 69 calories, 49% of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 9 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 196 mg sodium, 1 g fiberCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun