From the tip of Maine to the Pacific Coast, blueberries are a-popping. July is a month during which we can enjoy fruit harvests across the country, especially blueberries, which are picked from June through August. July has been declared National Blueberry month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The FruitGuys is thrilled that each region we serve--West, Central, and East--can get a dose of local blues. West Coast FruitCases have conventional blueberries from Oregon's Hurst's Berry Farm and organic ones from Mendocino Blues in Hopland, CA. In the Central region, the berries come from Grand Junction, MI (Van Buren County); East Coast boxes have blues from the pine barrens of Southern New Jersey near Hammonton (Atlantic County), the "Blueberry Capital of the World." It was here in the forested plain and sandy soils of the New Jersey Pinelands that commercial blueberry production first began.
Blueberries are native to North America and grow wild in woods and bogs. Native Americans revered the berries and were experts at preserving them for winter stores and used them in special dishes. Early Americans would traverse woods to find berries, and, like Sal in the children's book Blueberries for Sal, compete with birds and bears for the delicacies. When blueberries are in season, bears will eat nothing else--traveling up to 15 miles to get to juicy berry patches.
Self-taught New Jersey botanist Elizabeth Coleman White successfully created the nation's first commercial crop of blueberries in 1916 under the brand Tru-Blu-Berries. She selected the most vigorous wild berries to produce her improved varieties and named them after the foragers who brought her the wild plants, such as Mr. Rube Leek, whose plant was called the Rubel. Other varieties are the Bluetta, Bluegold, Bluejay, and the very popular Duke.
Blueberries are nutritional powerhouses full of antioxidant phytonutrients called anthocyanidins that can neutralize free radical damage to cells and tissues. The blue-red pigment found in their skin contains anthocyanins which have been shown to improve the integrity of veins and the vascular system as well as enhance the effects of Vitamin C, which they contain loads of. One cup of blueberries has up to 30% of your RDA of Vitamin C, plus Manganese, Vitamin E and fiber, yet only 81 calories. The whitish-grey covering, or "bloom," on the berries protects them. Blues should only be washed just before eating.
We likely owe the incredible antioxidant powers of blueberries to the wild plant's ability to thrive in adverse forest conditions. Modern berries are cultivated in careful rows. When asked if the snacking birds present much of a problem to the farmers at Atlantic Blueberry in Hammonton, NJ, Loretta Armstrong cheerfully replied, "We have enough to share." Our sentiments exactly.
- Heidi Lewis