New Jersey Blueberries
In produce markets blueberries come in two varieties: wild and cultivated. The wild ones are quite small and tart, while the cultivated varieties are bigger, sweeter, and I think have a lot of flavor. Blueberries grow in clusters at the top of the bush; new cultivators grow high off the ground and can be picked by machine. That means that while they're in season, they're in bountiful supply.
Most fruits and vegetables originated in Asia or Europe, but blueberries are strictly a North American food. Although they're grown worldwide, North America still produces 95 percent of the world's crop. They have a very short season--only cherries and apricots are shorter--yet we still produce more than 200 million pounds. Blueberries are available between June and September from the Carolinas, Michigan, and New England, as well as from the garden state of New Jersey. Without a doubt the biggest, best, and sweetest berries come from Hammonton and Vineland, New Jersey.
The first blueberries of the season--from Florida--show up on market at the beginning of May, but I don't think they are as good as those from states a little farther north. Good berries from the Carolinas start appearing in late May. Late in June a huge New Jersey crop comes in; then in July berries from Oregon, Washington, Michigan, and Massachusetts come on the market; in August crops from Maine arrive, and in late August, berries from British Columbia. Although it's always best to buy local produce, blueberries stand up to shipping much better than other berries, basically because they're small and round and pack compactly.
To get the best value for your money, try to buy local berries. Buy them at the top of their yield in your own community, and eat your fill while they're in season. Look for firm, plump, dry, deep blue berries of a uniform size. A dusty bloom on the outside is an excellent sign of freshness. Seven or eight days after harvest, that bloom will disappear, but it's not something that will wash off in cold water. The dusty blue sheen on the berry is nature's way of protecting it from the sun, and it's your way of knowing the berry is fresh, so make sure the berries look dry and have that dusty blue look. A paler, reddish purple color is usually an indication the berry isn't ripe. Also check to be sure the box isn't wet underneath--which is an indication of overripe, ruined fruit.
Storing and Preparing
Fresh blueberries will keep unrefrigerated for two days and for up to ten days in your refrigerator. If you're not going to eat them plain or bake them into pies, muffins, or pancakes, you can freeze them just as they come from the market: wrap the whole package and stick it in the freezer. As they defrost, blueberries lose their firm consistency, but they stay sweet. You can use them semifrozen in fresh fruit salads, or bake with them.
Blueberry Tea Cakes
Other recipes from Produce Pete.