My Dad did not like taking the major freeways and, while this was a much longer route, it afforded us time to literally stop and smell the... blueberries.
I guess that blueberries grow very well in the climate in Ontario because at intervals along our trip back to Ottawa, we came across little stalls set up along side of the road with vendors, mostly teenagers who were having a productive summer vacation, selling punnets of "wild" blueberries.
I had never seen, or tasted anything quite like it before. Tiny little blueberries that packed a taste of sweetness and delight into their tiny little being-ness, which I have never been able to find again amongst the packages of blueberries in my grocery store.
The lesson we learned that day was, once you start eating these delicious morsels, you seriously can not stop! Without thinking of consequences, my Mum, Dad, and I ate our way through the largest punnet we could find on the stall, as our drive back to Ottawa still had quite some distance.
If you have never eaten vast amounts of fruit before, let me give you a little heads up... Don't! Not unless you want to have a cleansing and have total access to a bathroom at all times.
Yes, in the true nature of the beast, what goes in, must come out, my parents and I could not get back home fast enough. The last several kilometers were taken at high speed, and I can only say that my parents were very wise in building a home with four bathrooms.
But all joking aside, the nutritional value of these little gems are amazing. An idea that was given several years ago on an Oprah show was to remove a candy dish from your work desk, and replace it with a bowl of fresh blueberries. You'll munch on them more, they have the sweetness you are desiring without the effect of process sugars (makes your energy rise, and then crash causing you to feel sluggish and tired), and they are so good for you.
Blueberries are a high source in Vitamins A, C, E, K and beta-carotene as well as rich in the minerals potassium, manganese, and magnesium. And, as I learned the hard way, they also provide fiber. They are also low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Recent studies tell us that of all fresh fruits and vegetables, blueberries provide the most health-protecting antioxidants, those valuable elements which prevent cancer-causing cell damage
Today, a former school friend of mine reminded me that we are all "getting older". And, as a group, we are all beginning the process of hitting the big 4-0. If we haven't before, it's time to start taking note of our health. The deep blue color of blueberries comes from a group of flavonoids called anthocyanins, which have remarkable antioxidant power. Blueberry anthocyanins can help provide protection from the effects of oxidative stress, which underlies the common disorders associated with aging.
The properties of blueberries cross the blood brain barrier to effect all these benefits. Antioxidants help to stop the production of free radicals. Free radicals are groups of atoms that impair the cells and the immune system which leads to disease. Anti-oxidants bind the the free electrons in free radicals.
Anthocyanins create the blue color in blueberries. They are water-soluble and will bleed into water (or on mouths and clothes). Anthocyanins are antioxidants, known to reduce heart disease and cancer in humans. They are found throughout the plant world, but blueberries have the highest of any fruit or vegetable. This substance is believed to combat E. Coli.
Chlorogenic acid is another antioxidant which may also slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream after a meal. Chlorogenic acid's antioxidant properties may help fight damaging free radicals.
Ellagic acid also appears to bind cancer-causing body chemicals, rendering them inactive.
Catechins are the phytochemical compounds that helped make a nutritional star out of green tea which is so rich in them. Current belief holds that their antioxidant effect diminishes the formation of plaque in the arteries. Further research is being done to see if they combat and/or suppress cancerous tumors and cell proliferation, but to date no evidence is solid.
Resveratrol is a substance that is produced by several plants. A number of beneficial health effects, such as anti-cancer, anti-viral, neuroprotective, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory and life-prolonging effects have been reported for this substance. It is found in the skin of red grapes. Since wine is made from red grapes, the supply of resveratrol inherent in a glass of red wine, may explain the phenomenon known as the “French paradox.” This refers to the fact that the French ingest a lot of saturated fats, but have a low incidence of coronary disease, possibly due to their intake of red wine. This 'paradox' is more discussed than proven. Resveratrol is also found in peanuts, and other berries of Vaccinium species including bilberries and cranberries.
Pterostilbene is yet another antioxidant found in blueberries. Current belief holds that it may fight cancer and may also help lower cholesterol.
Oxalates are the one possible negative aspect of blueberries. Oxalates should not be eaten in high concentration as they can crystallize and cause kidney or gallbladder problems. Oxalates also slow the absorption of calcium into the system. Eat blueberries separately from calcium-rich foods. A two to three hour wait is sufficient.
The nutritional value of blueberries makes them one of the best foods we can eat.
Most current studies have been limited to animals, but the findings would appear to be significant. Animals fed a diet of blueberry extract showed fewer changes in age related brain function which may mean better cognitive and motor skills. Yes, this means that blueberries may help the brain ward off dementia.
Fresh blueberries are available from May through October. Those available in other months are imported. Look for blueberries that are firm, and have a silvery-grey 'bloom.' This 'bloom' is a natural part of the blueberry, one that protects the skin just as humans protect theirs with emollients and creams. Lucky blueberries.
Like a healthy human being, a vibrant blueberry should have a little bounce to it. Shake the box when you buy them. If the berries don't move, they may be getting mushy, even moldy. The wonderful nutrients in blueberries are best sustained by keeping them cool, so purchase from a refrigerated section in the market and put them in your own fridge as soon as you get them home. (Better yet, pick them from the bush and plop as many in your mouth as you put in a pail.) And never, never wash a blueberry until you are ready to use them. You want to keep the 'bloom.'
You can freeze fresh blueberries. Do not wash them, but put them straight on a cookie sheet straight into the freezer. Once frozen, you can put them in a plastic freezer bag. You don't need to defrost blueberries to use them in baking, but it's best to thaw slowly in the refrigerator and drain well if you are using them uncooked.
Dried blueberries retain many nutrients and are wonderful added to fruit salads, oatmeal in the morning, granola. Sprinkled on salads they add color and beauty with their nutrition.
While I enjoy a bowl of blueberries full of their own richy goodness, there are so many different recipes you can create or make with blueberries.
Blueberries can be dried (a dehydrator is a great investment!) and then served in salads, or as a topping for ice-cream.
You can make a delicious smoothie using blueberries.
You can get really adventurous and use it as an accent to a savory dish, such as seared duck breast with blueberry glaze.
There is always the time honoured North American favourite, blueberry pie. Or take it healthy with a low-fat blueberry bran muffin.
This little fruit is really incredibly versatile. I am going to create a selection of recipes for you to try out using this delicious little gem, in my 'blueberry series'.
As I remember that long drive, and the lovely little morsel which I had only very rarely tried before, my mind began to create different things that could be made with blueberries. I had no idea at the time that this little fruit, with so much taste and enjoyment to it, could be as healthy as it is. Sometimes, we just got to think that someone was really smart when they invented the blueberry. Attractive, delicious, and healthy. Well done!