Berries are easier to grow than vegetables, because they have fewer insect pests and you don’t have to plant them every year. And what a joy when abundant berries ripen and you can freeze them for winter eating or invite your friends over for a pickathon.
Blueberries are a major crop for us, and they’re just starting to turn blue now. After many years of fumbling around with netting to protect them from birds, Betsy and our son Alex built a 10-foot-high roofed cage for them out of wood and chicken wire, as shown below. They need no spraying; we just spread pine needles at their base once a year, because blueberries, unlike most plants, like an acid soil.
Robert Frost, who once lived here in Amherst, has a wonderful poem called “Blueberries.” It’s a dialogue between two country folk, and one says, “It must be on charcoal they fatten their fruit. I taste in them sometimes the flavor of soot.”
Last year was our best year ever for blueberries, perhaps because we got abundant spring rain. We froze many pint containers and are still eating the berries. Betsy puts a quarter cup of frozen berries on her oatmeal every morning. The warm oatmeal thaws them and they don’t lose their color or get mushy.
I have a simple recipe for blueberry jam, in which I puree 4 cups of berries in a blender with a quarter cup honey. I bring it to a boil in a saucepan, and stir for one minute while it’s boiling. Meanwhile, I sprinkle 2 envelopes (2 tablespoons) of unflavored gelatin in a quarter cup of orange juice and let it stand a minute. I add it to the blueberry mixture and heat, stirring, for about 3 minutes. I let it stand for 5 minutes before pouring it into jars, and cool before refrigerating.
Blueberries are high on most lists of foods that promote good health and long life. They contain many antioxidants, which neutralize “free radicals” that are linked to cancer and heart disease. They have only 80 calories per cup and are loaded with Vitamins C and K, plus manganese and fiber. Some believe they help ward off urinary tract infections (as cranberries do) and even improve memory.
Listen up, men! Blueberries are thought to promote prostate health.
There has to be a downside in something so wonderful, and there is. It’s called the spotted wing drosophila, a fruitfly that lays its eggs on blueberries and turns them to mush. It started invading the Northeast a year or so ago, and spraying is ineffective because it develops a tolerance quickly, and who wants to eat blueberries sprayed with chemicals?
Our strategy is to pick the blueberries shortly after they turn blue when we first detect fruitfly damage. This makes them a little less sweet, but seems to be the best course of action.
Tomorrow: raspberries, gooseberries and strawberries.