Blueberries and the science behind them

Let’s learn some plant science at the dinner table while enjoying some Michigan fresh blueberries.

Blueberries and the science behind them

The end of summer is closing in on us, but there is still time to enjoy some fresh Michigan blueberries. Whether you like your blueberries fresh, frozen (one of my favorite ways to eat them), in muffins, pancakes or smoothies, you can enjoy one of nature’s treats fresh from a Michigan farm. Learning more about the foods we eat, how they grow, where they come from and teaching children a little plant science can make for a great summer time activity for young and old.

 Here are a few fun blueberry facts:

  • Blueberries are native to America.
  • Native Americans used them for medicinal purposes.
  • The U.S. is the world’s largest blueberry producer, both cultivated and wild.
  • Michigan leads the nation in cultivated blueberry production.
  • Blueberries are true berries that have seeds surrounded by fleshy fruit. For a fruit to be a true berry, it must be produced from a single ovary.
  • Michigan grows more than 30 varieties of blueberries.
  • There are 600 farm families that grow and process Michigan blueberries.
  • There are almost 21,000 acres of blueberries in Michigan, yielding an average of 5,000 pounds of berries per acre.
  • Some blueberry plantings in Michigan date back to 1930, and over half of the acreage is more than 40 years old.
  • Maine grows the most wild blueberries.
  • There are four blueberry festivals in Michigan.
  • Blueberry nutrition factsFresh blueberries have about 100 calories per cup.
  • Blueberries are high in vitamin C.
  • Blueberries are one of the only natural foods that are truly blue in color. 
  • Because of the high amount of antioxidants in blueberries, they may help prevent damage caused by cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
  • Blueberries are a good source of dietary fiber.
  • Blueberries grow best in acidic soil at a pH of 4 to 5.
  • Blueberries make a great container plant.
  • Blueberries are grown commercially in 38 states.
  • Blueberries were added to the White House’s kitchen garden in 2011.
  • Blueberries rank as the second most important commercial berry crop in the U.S.

Pete Callow, a technician who has worked in the blueberry research lab at Michigan State University since 1984, states “Blueberries are a terrific fruit, they taste great, are good for you, there’s no pit, you don’t have to peel or slice them, they’re easy to freeze, you can eat them fresh or bake with them. Plus, you can harvest them standing up.”

Blueberries are available all year, but if you want your own fresh off the bush, you can find a pick-your-own farm in Michigan to get the freshest, tastiest blueberries. To learn about growing blueberries, Michigan State University Extension has a number of resources on the Growing Blueberries page. Also, check out the Using, Storing and Preserving Blueberries fact sheet, available from Michigan Fresh.

There are many ways to incorporate blueberries into recipes, such as blueberry stuffed French toast. One of my favorite ways to enjoy blueberries, especially in the winter, is blueberry jam. The following is an easy blueberry jam recipe you can make with kids, available from Real Simple Magazine, July 2011.

Easy Blueberry Jam

Makes approximately 3 cups.

Ingredients

  • 5 cups blueberries (approximately 2.5 pints)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Directions

In a medium saucepan, add the blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and salt. Stir to combine and gently smash the blueberries with the back of a large spoon until they begin to release their juices. Some berries will still be somewhat whole and that is fine.

Heat over medium high heat for approximately 18 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mixture will thicken and darken in color. Remove from heat and pour jam into glass jars. While still hot, place lids on jars to seal them.

Store jam in refrigerator for one month or place in freezer for up to one year.

Blueberries for SalBlueberries for Sal cover

After a tasty blueberry treat, I suggest reading “Blueberries for Sal.” This book is geared for 3-to-7-year-olds. Sal and her mother are picking blueberries to can for winter, but when Sal wanders to the other side of Blueberry Hill, she discovers a mama bear preparing for her own long winter. Sal’s mother is followed by a small bear with a big appetite for berries. Will Sal and the small bear find their own mamas?

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