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Blueberry basics

July 07, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proclaimed July National Blueberry Month - a time to celebrate a native North American fruit produced in 35 states. The North American blueberry harvest runs from mid-April through early October, with peak pickin's in July, according to information from the North American Blueberry Council, www.blueberry.org, and the California-based U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, www.ushbc.org on the Web.

Both organizations trace the use of blueberries on the continent to American Indians, who were using blueberries for cooking and healing year-round by the time the Pilgrims arrived in North America. Indians dried the berries in the sun before adding them whole to soups, stews and meat. They also crushed them into a powder for use as a meat rub or the key ingredient - combined with cornmeal, water and honey - in a pudding called Sautauthig. American Indians also brewed blueberry roots into a tea to help relax women during childbirth, steeped blueberry leaves to make a blood purifier and used blueberry juice and syrup as a cough suppressant, according to information from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, a nationwide network of highbush blueberry growers.

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Blueberries are naturally nutritious, with 16 percent of the daily recommended allowance of fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium and folate in one cup of berries. Blueberries also are low in fat and sodium. Researchers at the USDA's Human Nutrition Center found that blueberries rank above 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables in antioxidant activity, according to the blueberry council. Antioxidants help neutralize harmful byproducts of metabolism called free radicals.

And blueberries are tasty.

The versatile berries can be popped plain and used in dishes ranging from salads and smoothies to dinner entrees and desserts. In addition to complementing other sweet foods, the flavor of blueberries melds well with the spicy and salty ingredients in many chutneys, barbecue sauces and dressings, according to information from the blueberry council.

The council's recipe Web site at www.ushbc.org/recipes.htm boasts dozens of downloadable recipes that give a new twist to the old favorite fruit, including blueberry mustard, chutney and balsamic vinegar - which can be used to flavor grilled meat.

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