Enjoy Louisiana blueberries. They can help protect against diseases, including certain cancers and heart disease, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.
Blueberries and other brightly colored berries contain vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and phytochemicals, which are nonnutritive substances in plants that promote health and prevent chronic disease.
Antioxidants are phytochemicals that help neutralize harmful by-products of metabolism called free radicals that contribute to heart disease and other diseases.
Blueberries are nature's number one source of antioxidants among fresh fruits and vegetables according to the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
Anthocyanins, the pigments giving blueberries their deep blue hue, act as antioxidants, which may provide many health benefits. In addition, blueberries are a low-calorie food – only 40 calories in one-half cup. They also are a good source of vitamin C and fiber.
In addition, blueberries contain compounds that may help to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), according to a report from the Rutgers Blueberry Cranberry Research Center in Chatsworth, New Jersey.
The compounds, called condensed tannins, can keep the bacteria responsible for UTIs from attaching to the linings of the urinary and digestive tracts.
The Rabbiteye blueberry is most successfully grown in the South. Some varieties of Rabbiteye blueberries begin ripening the first week of June and others through the early part of July. Blueberries from other parts of the country are plentiful in supermarkets in July and August.
"The soils in many parts of Louisiana tend to be acid, and this is perfect for growing Rabbiteye blueberries," according to LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dan Gill. He says blueberry bushes are excellent for small gardens, since they stay much smaller than most fruit trees. Plants need a spacing of only about 6 feet.
Gill recommends the blueberry cultivars Tifblue, Woodard, Climax, Premier and Choice. Southern highbush blueberry cultivars, such as Cooper, Gulfcrest, Blue Ridge and Cape Fear, are other options.
Reames says to look for berries that are dark blue, with a frosty bloom. Store fresh blueberries in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, and wash them just before you use them, not ahead of time or they'll get mushy.
Loose-pack frozen blueberries are available year-round, and you can use them in any recipe that calls for fresh blueberries. Since they are pre-washed, they can be used right from the package.
Blueberries should be plump and firm with a dark blue color and waxy, silvery "bloom." Sweetness varies by variety. Blueberries do not ripen after harvest, so as soon as you buy them, you can eat them. One pint of berries will provide four to five servings of fresh uncooked fruit.
Storage and preparation. Handle fruit gently to avoid bruising. Bruising shortens the life of fruit and contributes to low quality. Sort carefully and remove berries that are too soft or decayed. Store berries loosely in a shallow container to allow air circulation and to prevent the berries on top from crushing those underneath. Do not wash berries before refrigerating. Store covered containers of berries in a cool, moist area of the refrigerator, such as in the hydrator (vegetable keeper), to help extend the usable life of the fruit. Recommended storage time is three to five days. Before eating berries or using in your favorite recipe, wash berries gently in cold water, lift out of water and drain.
Freeze blueberries without washing. When washed before freezing, blueberry skins become tough. To freeze, remove stems and trash, package tightly in freezer bags or containers or glass jars, leaving one-half inch headspace. Seal airtight and freeze. Remove from freezer, rinse in cold water and use immediately.
Use frozen berries directly from the freezer. There's no need to thaw them if you use them in baked products, except for pancakes. Pancakes may not cook thoroughly in the center if the berries are frozen. Microwave the amount you need for a few seconds to thaw.
Reames offers additional tips for serving blueberries:
Blueberry sauce recipe:
Serves 8 (1/4-cup servings).
2 cups fresh or frozen wild blueberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water
l teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Directions: Add water to berries; heat until warm. Combine cornstarch, sugar and cinnamon; stir into berry mixture. Stir and cook until mixture is thickened and clear. Add lemon juice and mix.
For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.