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Blueberries: Berry, Berry Good

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Blueberry Delight

Blueberries are the Doris Day of summer fruit – happy-go-lucky, bright bouncing balls of flavor. Blackberries are moody, musky, and more complex. Watermelon is refreshing, juicy, and crisp. Cantaloupe is just a bit exotic. Peaches are downright racy — seductive, sexy, and sensual. We don’t get much in the way of cherries in the Deep South, but they, too, seem to be a very grown-up fruit. Blueberries however, are rated G. Blueberries are all-American. Blueberries are summer. Blueberries are healthy. Blueberries will put a smile on your face. 

Blueberry Binge

When blueberries are in season, I enjoy them on a daily basis. When shopping, I always buy an extra pint just for the ride home from the farmer’s market. I’ll often buy a pint to throw in my carry-on bag for healthy snacking or a good-and-good-for-you breakfast.  Sometimes I can get a little carried away. I laugh at myself binge-eating on blueberries, but hey, that’s heck of a lot better than a bag of potato chips!

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High Bush vs Low Bush Blueberries

There are two basic kinds of blueberries: high bush and low bush. High bush blueberries belong to the same family of plants as cranberries, rhododendrons, and azaleas and will grow up to eight feet! My home state of Georgia is in the top 5 high bush blueberry producing states in the nation. Low bush blueberries will only grow up to 24 inches. These wild bushes are native to eastern and central Canada and the northeastern United States, growing as far south as West Virginia and west to the Great Lakes region, Minnesota and Manitoba. Generally low bush blueberries are smaller. I Both high and low bush blueberries are low in fat and sodium, have just 80 calories per cup and contain a category of phytonutrients called polyphenols.  This group includes anthocyanins, which are compounds that give blueberries their blue color. Anthocyanins have demonstrated ability to protect against a myriad of human diseases.

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Hot as Georgia Asphalt

A few years ago, a friend and I drove a few hours south of Atlanta to pick some of those delicious Georgia blueberries so that we could put up some jam. Let me tell you, it was hot as absolute blue blazes in that blueberry patch. The sun mercilessly beat down on our efforts for a farm-fresh harvest. Sweat dripped, no, ran in rivulets into our stinging eyes. Sunscreen washed off of us in waves. Gnats buzzed about our faces, pestering our eyes, ears, nose, and mouths. Birds dive-bombed our heads in competition for the fruit. Mosquitoes freely fed at our ankles like they were at a Las Vegas buffet. The combination of the smothering humidity and brutal sun caused our clothes to adhere to our flushed skin in awkward, uncomfortable configurations much like misdirected plastic wrap. It was 100% pure misery.

My second attempt at harvesting blueberries came a few summers ago while living in New England. We had blueberry bushes and I’d carefully covered them in tight-grid plastic mesh to keep the birds away. I diligently weeded and watered the soil, rich and teeming with earthworms. I braved terrified birds that had become trapped in the mesh. Slowly and surely, the unripe green orbs began to blush pink, then turned purple red. As they fully ripened the fruit turned deep blue in color, seemingly magically dusted in silver powder. The branches were bent heavy with fruit and it looked to be a great harvest. I was beyond excited, eagerly anticipating the two of us harvesting the fruit from the land. I had visions of jewel-toned quilted jelly jars lined up on the shelves in our pantry, premonitions of thirst-quenching blueberry lemonade, and lofty dreams of healthy blueberry smoothies to start our upcoming mornings.

Finally, the time came to harvest. The evening wasn’t nearly as hot as my experience in Georgia. There were no gnats or mosquitoes, no sunscreen was required, and the birds stayed a respectful distance away. It was looking pretty good. As we descended to the field, I was channeling equal parts Laura Ingalls Wilder and P. Allen Smith, two folks I immensely admire. We started our harvest. Birds chirped in the adjacent willow tree. Butterflies flitted in the air. There may have been a bunny at the edge of the meadow nibbling on grass.

Then, the horrific nightmare began. As we removed the protective mesh, we found not one, not two, but two-and-a-half dead snakes entangled in the mesh. Why dead? They’d slipped under the mesh and had become trapped. They were harmless garter snakes, but I come from a long line of snake-fearing women. All 5 deadly snakes that inhabit the North American continent live, nay, flourish and thrive in Georgia. I am positively terrified of snakes – harmless, deadly, live, dead, fake, and yes, halved. I basically lost my, well, stuff. I ceased to be helpful or cooperative. I moved to a safe distance of 25 feet from the flaccid, lifeless serpents.

Oh, hell no.

I have now officially decided buying blueberries nicely packaged in containers will be the way to go.

Blueberry Recipes

You can keep it keep it wholesome like Doris Day or jazz it up with chilled vodka. As for me, on this incredibly momentous day, I think Blueberry Lemonade might go really well with champagne!

Thanks so much for reading.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

blueberries on www.virginiawillis.com

Blueberry Mint Lemonade

Serves 8
Prep Time5 mins
Course: beverage, cocktails, lunch, picnic
Cuisine: American, Southern
Keyword: blueberries, lemonade
Author: Virginia Willis

Ingredients

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 ½ cups water
  • ½ pint blueberries
  • 4 sprigs mint more for garnish
  • Juice 4 lemons
  • Lemon slices for garnish
  • Chilled Vodka optional

Instructions

  • Combine the sugar and ½ cup of the water in a small saucepan. Stir to combine. Cook over medium heat, just until the sugar melts. Set aside.
  • In the bottom of a pitcher combine the blueberries and the mint. Using the end of a spoon or a muddler, crush the berries and the mint until pulpy and smashed. Add the juice of 4 lemons, the remaining 3 cups of water, and the reserved simple syrup. Stir to combine. Add ice to fill the pitcher and chill the lemonade.
  • To serve, fill a glass with ice. Pour over lemonade and additional mint and lemon slices to garnish. For an adult version, fill glass with ice and add 1 ½ ounces vodka, or to taste, and top off with lemonade, mint sprigs, and lemon slices.

If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to info@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

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photography by Virginia Willis

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 1 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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