So many local fruits and so little time! Regardless of what I have written before, please know that when fruits and vegetables are in season locally that is the time to enjoy and preserve them. Right now is the time to indulge in blueberries!

For me I know that learning about the history of foods has given me a greater appreciation for the foods available today. Wild blueberries, which are round and dark blue, are smaller than our cultivated varieties and grow in the wild in Maine, Minnesota, Scandinavia, the British Isle, Russia, and North/South America. Most of the blueberries you purchase at the grocery store are cultivated varieties and date only from the early 20th century.

Blueberries of any variety are great for your health! The wild blueberries may be small, but they pack a healthy punch! USDA studies show that wild blueberries rank first in antioxidants compared to 20 other fruits. Since most of us are eating cultivated blueberries, it is reassuring to know that they are right behind the wild ones when it comes to providing antioxidants.

There are at least five health benefits to eating blue. First is brain health. Ongoing brain research shows that blueberries may improve motor skills and reverse short-term memory loss that comes with aging. The second benefit is that research shows that blueberry compounds may inhibit all stages of cancer. They are a protector and can help when it comes to preventing heart disease and repairing damage from strokes. The blueberry (like the cranberry) may help prevent urinary tract infections. Lastly, research around the world has indicated that blueberries may improve vision and prevent tired eyes.

We all could benefit from eating and enjoying our daily dose of blue. Plan to add fresh or frozen blueberries to cereal, smoothies, salads, and dinner entrees. Just a half cup is all you need to satisfy one of your recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. They are marketed fresh, frozen, and canned.

When selecting berries, choose firm, plump berries with a silvery bloom; they should not have stems attached. Avoid juice stained containers and soft berries. When it comes to storage, refrigerate fresh berries for up to two weeks and wash just before using them. To freeze fresh blueberries, do not wash them. Pack rigid plastic containers or freezer bags. You can also place single layers on trays for an individual quick freeze and then place frozen berries in containers removing as much air as possible. Some local growers prefer to rinse the berries first then dry and freeze them. I suggest you try both ways to know which you prefer. Frozen berries will keep at least one year.

If you did not rinse your berries before freezing, make sure you do before use by placing them in a strainer to remove as much water as possible. They don’t have to be defrosted before using. Fresh, uncooked blueberries are enjoyed as is or can be a part of snacks or meals. When blueberries are mixed with other berries such as raspberries and strawberries they make a visually appealing and delicious fruit cup. They add color and flavor to fruit salads, yogurt, ice cream, muffins, and pancakes. They also add sweetness to pies, tarts, cobblers, puddings, coffee cakes, tea breads, and other desserts. The bottom line is that blueberries are good for you so include them in your healthy eating plan.

Mary Ann Lienhart Cross is extension educator, Health & Human Sciences, with Purdue Extension Elkhart County. She can be reached at 574-533-0554 or lienhart@purdue.edu.

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