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Doing the blue

I don’t know who planted the first blueberry bush in Louisiana, but I sure would like to thank him. When I was growing up we had strawberries and wild blackberries but never blueberries unless they came in a can. And then, they were the tiny ones that I’m pretty sure were grown somewhere in New England. Boy, have things changed!

A couple of years ago, we had the good fortune to befriend a retiree who’s growing blueberries up near Picayune, Miss., and we drive up and pick to our hearts’ content. One friend eats so many while she’s picking that her mouth turns dark blue. Then we sort and package as many as we can and head home with a trunk load of large, juicy berries.

Rabbit-eye is the most common variety grown here, a much larger blueberry than I had eaten before. Northshore growers cranked up the industry several decades ago in Louisiana, and southern Mississippi also has several pick-your-own farms. Those who don’t want to pick can buy them at grocery stores and open markets at reasonable prices during the season that peaks in June.

When I get home with my cargo, I go through cookbook after cookbook to get ideas on what to do with them. I have made jam, muffins, shortcakes, pies, cobblers, syrup and sauces. I have never had a bad blueberry dish. My favorite is the double-crust pie or its variation, the cobbler.

Vanilla ice cream over warm cobbler – it just doesn’t get any better than that. This year I tried a sorbet because blueberry season comes in summer.

The little ice cream makers that you freeze ahead of time cut the work in half. There is no mess to clean up and no fooling with ice or salt.

I keep enough berries in the refrigerator to eat for a week to 10 days and freeze the rest in zipper bags. Blueberries freeze to perfection. So I fill up a large corner of my chest freezer, measuring out the right amounts for pies or cobblers, and a great dessert is just minutes away. My other secret is using refrigerator-ready crusts. Once again, no mess. Keep them in a box in your freezer and just pull one or two out when you want a pie or cobbler. An important thing to remember is never wash the blueberries until you’re ready to use them. Then, just give them a quick rinse. That way they stay nice and plump with their juice inside.

One more thing: there’s almost no food healthier than the blueberry. It contains all the right combinations – rich in vitamins A, C and E and in beta carotene, potassium and magnesium; high in fiber; low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium; and loaded with antioxidants, which are believed to prevent cancer. Wow! According to Tufts University, where much blueberry research was done, we would do well to eat one-half cup of blueberries a day.

But don’t eat all of your blueberries in sweet desserts, or the wonders they bring to good health may be lost in weight gain. Blueberries are naturally sweet, so eat them plain with cereal or yogurt for breakfast, or just eat a handful for a mid-day snack. One-half cup contains only 40 calories.
Meanwhile, for those weekend breakfasts, there’s nothing like hot biscuits loaded with blueberry jam!

4 cups fresh or frozen
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1.75-ounce package
      powdered pectin
1/2 teaspoon butter
3 1/2 cups sugar

Prepare 5 half-pint canning jars by boiling them, their ring caps and a pair of tongs in a large pot of water for several minutes. In a smaller pot of water, boil the lower half of a second pair of tongs. Remove the tongs, turn off the fire and put lids in the hot (not boiling) water. Using the second pair of tongs, remove the jars and place upright onto a counter top lined with paper towels.

If berries are fresh, then rinse, remove any stems and drain. Place fresh or thawed berries in a large pot and crush with a potato masher or pastry cutter. Stir in lemon juice, then pectin until completely dissolved. Add butter to keep mixture from foaming up. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil that bubbles, stirring constantly. Add sugar all at once and stir constantly over high heat until mixture begins to bubble again. Then boil for 1 minute.

Place jam in sterilized jars to within 1/4-inch of the top. Wipe any excess off jars. Place lids, then ring caps onto jars.

Makes 4 1/2 half-pint jars.

4 cups blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter,
      cut into small pieces
1 single pie pastry, homemade
      or packaged refrigerated ready

Rinse and drain berries when ready to use, picking off any stems. Place them in a 11-by-7-inch baking dish. Add sugar, flour, salt and lemon juice and mix well. Dot with butter.

Slice pastry into 1-inch strips and place across berries in a lattice pattern. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown on top. This is best served warm with vanilla ice cream on top.

Serves 6.

4 cups blueberries, fresh or
      frozen and thawed
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
Rinse blueberries, removing any stems. Drain and place in a medium pot. Add water and lemon juice and mix well, mashing the berries with a fork. Stir in sugar, mix well and bring to a full boil. Remove from heat and cool for a few minutes and strain. Use a large strainer over a medium bowl and mash the berries against the strainer with the back of a large spoon. Get all of the juice you possibly can from the mash. Cool completely in the refrigerator. Freeze in an electric ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. When sorbet is firm, place the container in the freezer and keep it there until ready to serve. This can be done a day or more ahead of time. When ready to serve, scoop it out into pretty small bowls or stemmed glasses.

Serves 4 to 6.

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