Blueberry lovers experienced famine last year, but 2008 is proving to be a feast for blueberry conisseurs.

A frost wiped out the 2007 crop, leaving blueberries scarce in the store, even in their frozen form. Repeated trips to the berry section in the freezer turned up blackberries, raspberries and mixed berries, but no blueberries.

That’s not so this year. Spring rains and mild temperatures have resulted in a plump, juicy crop. And the good news is, if you haven’t yet purchased fresh blueberries, there’s plenty of time to buy them or pick your own. The crop is at its peak now and should run through next week.

Rhoda Burgess of Burgess Fruit Market usually has blueberries on her shelves until about a week after July 4. She’s frozen six gallons this year and said they’re good that way, as well as fresh. And, she says from experience, they’re especially succulent this year.

“With so much water we’ve had, the strawberries this year were just super to me. The berries have all had really good taste—strawberries, blueberries, blackberries,” she said.

Note to blackberry fans—she also has a crop of blackberries coming in. And they don’t just taste good, they’re good for you.

“Blueberries are one of those powerhouse fruits that provide you with lots of good things. They are a good source of fiber and vitamin C as well as antioxidants,” said Michelle Goss, clinical dietitian at Cherokee Nation Three Rivers Health Center.

“They are really good for you,” added Heather Winn, extension educator for the Cherokee County Oklahoma State University Extension Service.

She said they are low in calories and high in fiber. One cup of blueberries provides three grams of dietary fiber, but only 100 calories. It also will give you one-third of your vitamin C requirement for the day.

“That’s [antioxidants] one of the things people are into nowadays, because it’s supposed to fight the aging process, prevent heart disease and cancer,” she said. Blueberries are healthy and also pretty and help make a meal attractive, whether served in a salad, dessert or a snack.

“Eating fruits and veggies in a variety of colors that include red, dark green, yellow, blue, purple, white and orange provides the broadest array of nutrients. So eating those blueberries often can help you get those much-needed nutrients,” Goss said.

She suggests fresh blueberries as a good, low-calorie snack.

When selecting blueberries, choose firm, dry berries with a dusty blue color, Goss said. They should be uniform in size.

They can be stored in the refrigerator for 10 days to two weeks and are easy to freeze. To avoid the fruit sticking together, don’t wash the berries before freezing. Wash them when thawing and ready to use them.

Winn said many people freeze blueberries quickly in a single layer on a tray, then put them into a bag for long-term storage.

Goss suggests these uses for blueberries:

• As a topping for hot or cold cereal.

• Mixing them with vanilla or plain yogurt.

• For a special treat, using them as a topping for ice cream. If you make homemade ice cream this holiday weekend, blueberries would be a perfect ingredient or complement.

• Adding them to muffins, pancakes or waffles. Try making a blueberry sauce to top pancakes or waffles instead of using a lot of syrup.

• Mixing them with other fresh fruits and Lite Cool-Whip for a low-calorie dessert.

• Use them in smoothies, possibly in combination with bananas or another fruit.

“If you haven’t tried grilling peaches and blueberries you are missing out,” Goss said. “Next time you fire up that grill, try this great summer treat.”

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