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.