I am so proud of the staff of the NC Cooperative Extension Service, Master Gardener Volunteers, Extension Master Food Volunteers, 4-H members and volunteers and their families from southeastern NC. These folks picked over 770 pounds of blueberries and gave them to the Wilmington branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

These berries were grown at the North Carolina State University (NCSU) Horticulture crops and Research Farm in Castle Hayne. This research station is just one of 18 across NC where scientists and students work to test research in real world situations. The station in Castle Hayne is working to develop new blueberry varieties and study and improve the health and nutritional value of blueberries. NCSU researchers look at the station breed blueberries, strawberries and muscadine grapes. They also run field tests of the best ways to control disease, insects and weed in these fruits.

The foods grown at the research station cannot be sold. It would have gone to waste if these folks hadn’t participated in two days of gleaning blueberries. It was hot out and picking blueberries is hard work. So, good job to all who participated.

Blueberry season is here

Blueberries are in season from mid-May through July in NC. Blueberries bring in over $55 million to NC farmers, making our state among the nation’s top 10 in blueberry production.

Blueberries not only taste great, they’re good for you. Blueberries are a true powerhouse food. They provide more than its fair share of nutrients for the calories. Blueberries are high in polyphenols which are rich with antioxidants and thought to help with a range of illnesses, from diabetes to neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases.

A 1/2-cup serving of blueberries has 25% of the recommended daily value for vitamin C, 3 grams of dietary fiber and numerous other disease-fighting nutrients in just 40 calories!

If you’re picking or purchasing blueberries, choose ones that are dark blue, plump and free of mold. Fresh blueberries are perishable and should be stored in the refrigerator. Blueberries will stay good for about 10 days. Keep them in their original package or covered in a bowl. Don’t wash until you’re ready to use them.

Freezing blueberries

There are two ways to freeze blueberries: washed or unwashed. Some say the secret to successful freezing is to put them in a single layer on a cookie in the freezer unwashed and completely dry. Washing blueberries before freezing results in a tougher skin. Once they are frozen transfer them to a freezer container or a resalable plastic bag. Be sure to label them that they have not been washed and need to be washed before use.

Baking with blueberries

One problem that some folks tend to have when baking with blueberries is “blueberry drop.” This is where all the berries sink to the bottom of the cake or the muffin. According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council’s website, they sink because the specific gravity of the batter is too low. They suggest you can prevent this by using a thicker, denser batter.

Also, don’t overwork the batter. Over blending during the first stage of mixing can lead to thinner batter and sinking berries. Another suggestion is to spread half the batter in the pan, then add the blueberries and top with the remaining batter. Coating the blueberries with starch or flour before stirring into the batter has also been known to help.

The key to not having blue colored or streaked products is to use frozen berries. Add the frozen blueberries to the batter at the very end of the mixing. Get them directly from the freezer into the batter and bake before they have a chance to thaw.

If making blueberry pancakes, instead of mixing the blueberries into the batter, dot the pancakes with blueberries as soon as the batter has been poured on the griddle. If you want to add them directly from the freezer into pancakes or muffins it’s best to wash, dry well with a paper towel and freeze the blueberries in recipe-sized portions (usually about 1 cup for each batch of 12 muffins). Blueberries will have the best quality in the freezer for about 10 months…just in time for next year’s blueberry season.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science team member and can be reached at NC Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, at (910) 253-2610 or email cheryle_syracuse@ncsu.edu.

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