Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Harbinger of Summer

     I was in the grocery store yesterday and saw my first container of blueberries. The blueberry season is upon us, and it brings back memories.

     I remember when I was a kid, for several years our family rented a cabin on Crystal Lake in New Hampshire. We'd go in July for two weeks. My older brother set a goal of swimming across the lake, about three miles, and by the end of our first summer he made it, with my dad and me accompanying him in a rowboat.

     I also remember picking off the blood suckers that would sometimes attach themselves to our arms and legs, and private parts too, like the scene in Stand By Me. I also recall that each time we went to New Hampshire we'd spend a day or two scrambling over the rocks and scratching through the bushes to pick blueberries, which we gorged on until our tongues turned blue. Then my mother, who was not a particularly enthusiastic cook, was nevertheless inspired to bake blueberry muffins, make blueberry pancakes, and cook up a shelf full of blueberry pies.

     In New Hampshire the blueberry season comes in July and August. But these days Georgia produces more blueberries than new Hampshire ever did, and so the blueberry season begins in May. After that, blueberries start coming in from Oregon and Washington, Maryland and Michigan. Surprisingly, New Jersey is a big producer of blueberries, and Hammonton, NJ, makes a claim to be the "blueberry capital of the world."

     My parents lived relatively long and healthy lives -- my mother died at age 89, my dad at 91 -- and if I ever make it past 90, I will attribute it to all those blueberries I ate as a kid, and still consume as an adult. I don't know what it is -- maybe it brings me back to my youth? -- but I love blueberries. I eat them plain, or in a bowl with milk. I sprinkle them on vanilla ice cream, and pretty much every morning from May through August I top off my cereal with a few tablespoons of blueberries.

     Blueberries are credited with containing lots of antioxidants, including a class of flavonoids known as anthocyanins, which are responsible for giving foods like blueberries (as well as cranberries, red cabbage and eggplant) their purple, bluish color. All these foods are associated with lower rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. According to a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, regular consumption of anthocyanins can reduce the risk of heart attack by 32% in young and middle-aged women.

     Another study from the University of Cincinnati suggests that blueberries also help improve memory and brain function in older adults. Researchers monitored 47 Americans over age 68 who had shown minor cognitive impairment. Participants in the study were given either dried blueberry powder, or a placebo, every day. The people who took the blueberry extract saw their memory improve, performing better on tests asking them to retrieve words and concepts. The improvements were confirmed in MRI brain scans that showed more intense brain activity in the blueberry group compared to the placebo group.

     Of course, we all know that sometimes researchers and the media exaggerate the health benefits of various foods. But get this: Blueberries have been shown to prevent skin damage caused by the sun, pollution and smoke. In other words, blueberries prevent wrinkles and improve your skin tone.

     Regardless of whether all this is true or not . . . blueberries sure do taste good, and for me at least, are a welcome harbinger of summer.

13 comments:

DJan said...

I love blueberries, too, but mostly I eat them when they are ripe along the forest trails in late August and September. Sometimes we just stand awhile and munch away, blue fingers and tongues. Sometimes I get them in the store, but I really resist paying the high cost of these little blues. :-)

Barbara said...

I am a blackberry kind of girl myself so I've missed out on a lot of the goodness of blueberries because I've grabbed the black ones first. I have a friend who swears by blueberries and eats them for breakfast all during the season. I think I need to give them a fair trial. There are a kazillion types of berries out there. No reason to limit myself to one.

gigihawaii said...

I used to buy blueberries and sprinkle them over vanilla ice cream. Now, I buy the ice cream but don't buy the blueberries. Lol.

Anonymous said...

My neighbor has lots of bushes, he cannot harvest them all and lets me get them all the time, but I am big fan of blackberries and marrionberry these big juicy lovelies, I get them when I can and freeze them and pop them into everything when it is hotter than you know what outside frozen, what a treat, I had to pick strawberries for money and green beans, needless to say I seldom pay for them and when someone gives me a jar of strawberry jam and green beans I politely say thank you and gift it to others..I worked long hours as a child for little money harvesting those damn strawberries and green beans, I don't eat them much whatsoever, now Clams I am crazy about and Dungensss Crab we live close enough to go to the beach in Washington state and get food from the sea, I think that crab and clams are the bestest I put the blueberries into everything when I can get them, never pay for any berries as the ones I like are in my friends gardens and they share because they don't cook, can or garden much!

Jane said...

Ditto on the strawberry picking. As a high school student, I was picked up at 5 am in a flatbed truck and berry picked. Yeah, college looked pretty good after that summer. And I wonder why my knees are shot.

Blueberries remind me of my years in Alaska, combing mountainsides for berries and blackberries remind me of Seattle where they grew like weeds. I have craved blackberries this spring and can't believe I am actually paying for them.


Still the Lucky Few said...

I think those claims of the benefits of blueberries are quite accurate.I know they are tremendously beneficial for eyesight, and I take a vitamin which contains some of the nutrients. Of course, the taste is the best thing about them!

Olga Hebert said...

I use a lot of blueberries. I keep bags of frozen in the freezer section for my smoothies. But having the fresh picked blueberries available--one of mty favorite times of year.

Meryl Baer said...

We have strawberry plants in the yard. They usually ripen in June, followed by blueberries in the farmers markets. My grandson planted a blueberry bush in our yard two years ago, but so far harvested only a few berries. Blueberry chocolate chip pancakes are the grandkids favorites. Love the season!

Dick Klade said...

I'm among the blueberry lovers. We enjoy fresh fruit whenever possible, and freeze about 60 pounds to provide my fixes over the winter. On my birthdays, I get a blueberry pie instead of cake. Here in SW Michigan we are in blueberry heaven--they grow fat, juicy, and delicious. Didn't think of them as a harbinger of spring though. Will add that one to my seasonal observations.

priscilla said...

I used to live in NH as a kid...we always had fresh blueberries in the summer!!

Connie said...

This reminds me of my own summers in southern New Hampshire, a gang of us kids would pick a surprising number of buckets of wild blueberries and have blueberry pancakes, muffins, and pies for weeks. Loved it! Now I am inspired to go out this morning and buy a pint at the local market. Thanks for the memory.

schmidleysscribblins.com said...

Oh yes those blueberries are wonderful, especially the ones from New Jersey and Michigan. Now days, thanks to NAFTA we get them year round, but the spring berries here are the best.

Celia said...

Love those blueberries. I buy them locally and fill the freezer each year. I am down to the last cup of them. I make blueberry pancakes each Tuesday morning for myself and a grandgirl who stays with me that day. She says they aren't blueberry pancakes, they are blueberries with a little dough on them to hold them together. We love them.