If you thought that blueberries were only good in muffins, think again. These days, chefs and homecooks are using blueberries to make salsa, salad dressing and jam.
Fueled by the growing interest in eating healthy foods, the blueberry continues to gain popularity, especially in the central San Joaquin Valley, where the crop is eagerly awaited by consumers. The region’s farmers grow several different varieties, allowing buyers to enjoy the the sweet-tasting berries into July.
“I love adding blueberry to foods like Greek yogurt or just eating them fresh,” says Rachel Starbuck, who recently purchased four containers at the Vineyard Farmers Market at Blackstone and Shaw avenues in Fresno.
Wendy Thorbus, of Thor Farms in Hanford, says blueberry fans are lucky this year — the season is a little early, thanks to a mild winter and warm spring. You can find Thor Farms at the Visalia farmers markets on Thursday and Saturday and in Hanford, starting the first Thursday in May.
“This is a good crop of berries, the taste and quality is very good,” she says.
Ranked as one of the highest nutritionally dense foods, blueberries are a great snack and a versatile ingredient for adding color, flavor and sweetness to different dishes.
Kimberly Sorensen of Triple Delight Blueberries in Caruthers sells a majority of the farm’s berries at farmers markets in the Bay Area and Valley. A small portion also goes into new products the Sorensens have developed, including a blueberry jam and blueberry salad dressing. The low-sugar jam is available at the farmers markets they attend, at their roadside stand on Nebraska Avenue, just east of Freeway 41, and their online store, http://www.tripledelightblueberries.com.
The salad dressing that has a sweet, tart taste is getting some final touches and should be available soon.
“We planted our first berries in the ’90s and have seen the interest grow,” Sorensen says. “And it is not just eating blueberries fresh, but also in cooking and other products.”
The Sorensens feature several recipes on their website, including one for a sweet and spicy salsa.
“We have really tried to help our customers think about blueberries in different ways,” she says.
Food blogger Kindra Franzen can’t get enough of blueberries this time of the year. She puts them in her children’s lunches and enjoys cooking with them. Franzen, who writes the blog, http://thegoodie-goodiefoodie.com, has created a syrup, a blueberry muffin cake you can make in the microwave and french toast with blueberries, lemon and coconut.
“When blueberries are in season, I will eat them at least four days a week,” Franzen says.
Sorensen’s blueberry-apricot salsa
3 cups chopped fresh blueberries
1 cup chopped fresh apricots
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped red onion
3 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup diced bell pepper
2 minced seeded jalapeño peppers
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground pepper to taste
Mix together and refrigerate. Enjoy with chips, chicken or fish.
— Triple Delight Blueberries
Summer berry salad
1 head of romaine lettuce shredded
1/2 cucumber, peeled & cubed
8 strawberries, quartered
1 cup blueberries
1/4 cup diced chive
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white balsamic
1 teaspoon grain mustard
1/8 cup blueberries
Blend ingredients in an immersion blender. Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl and pour vinaigrette over salad.
— Kindra Franzen
Blueberry muffin mug cake
(Gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free)
3 tablespoons cassava flour
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
2 tablespoon applesauce
1 large egg
1/4 cup blueberries
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Mix everything together in a large coffee mug. Microwave for 2 minutes.
— Kindra Franzen
Blueberry lemon coconut french toast*
1 loaf of white bread (I used gluten-free soft white bread), cut into 1” cubes
2 cup fresh blueberries
1/4 cup shredded coconut
5 large eggs
11/2 cups coconut milk
1/4 cup grade A maple syrup
Zest of 1 large organic lemon
1/8 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, toss bread cubes, coconut, and blueberries. Place in a large baking dish. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, coconut milk, maple syrup, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon and vanilla. Pour mixture evenly over bread in baking dish. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with blueberry syrup.
*Bread can be replaced with any type of bread and milk can sub for coconut milk.
— Kindra Franzen
Blueberry pie bars
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup light brown sugar
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup ground graham crackers
11/2 cups butter melted
1 teaspoon salt
21/2 cups fresh blueberries
2 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 13x9 baking dish with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl with the paddle attachment, add all of the ingredients for the crust mix and blend together.
Set aside 1 cup of the crumble mix. Press out crumble mix evenly in the bottom of the pan. In a small bowl add blueberries cornstarch lemon juice and sugar blend. Then pour all of the blueberry mix over the crust top with the reserved crumble. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cut into squares serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream
— Susan Valiant, Mabel’s Kitchen