Enjoy fret-free Oregon blueberries

For several years, two charming brothers from the neighborhood, Alex and Brandon, would show up on our doorstep and make their summer pitch:

"We've been to every country, from Peru to Bolivia, only to find that the choicest blueberries were located in our very own backyard. And you can buy these delicious berries at only a $1.50 a bag. Plus, you get this handy, yellow-and-blue-makes-green, resealable pouch. And if you buy two, you'll get one bag free."

It's a taste for every preference

In case you were wondering, blueberries are the cultivated cousin of wild huckleberries. They range in color from purplish-blue to blue-black.

A growing number of mature, producing plants and growers entering the market has boosted the Northwest blueberry harvest, helping Oregon to become the fourth-largest producer nationwide. More than 50 varieties of blueberries are grown in the Northwest, offering blueberry lovers a taste for every preference.

Among the first to appear are such varieties as Earliblue and Bluetta, which are medium-sized, firm berries with a rich color and good, sweet flavor. Also early, the Spartan variety is a large berry with a brilliant, light-blue color. Bluecrop, Berkeley and Elliott are mid- to late-season varieties, ranging in color from bright, light blue to medium blue.

When selecting blueberries, look for plump, richly colored berries of fairly uniform size. The silvery "bloom" on the skin is a naturally occurring, protective, waxy coating.

Aside from the fact that I was a soft touch, they truly were delicious berries.

That's how it always seems to go for local blueberries. Talk about consistent. While the more finicky berries of the Northwest seem to take us on a roller-coaster ride each summer ("Will the caneberries bounce back from last winter's freeze? Is all this rain affecting the strawberries?"), the blueberry seems to come with a fret-free guarantee.

Floods. Freezes. Hurricane-velocity winds. The blueberry seems to weather it all with a relative amount of spunk and grace, and still manages to show up in our ice-cream churners in time for fireworks.

Now, there are plenty of blueberry growers out there rolling their eyes skyward at these observations. And it's true: Their chosen crop has its challenges.

If the fields are flooded in February, the sawdust ground cover beneath the bushes will need replacing to ensure an acidic soil. And like all berry growers, the blueberry folks are holding their breath during the 10- to 12-week "bloom-to-berry" phase.

But overall, from growing to cooking, it seems blueberries were custom-designed for today's typically hectic lifestyles. Compared with other berry varieties, there's a lot less work involved. For one thing, blueberry bushes last longer than the average Hollywood marriage — 40 to 50 years to be precise. Whereas with strawberries, every three to five years, you have to dig them up and plant new ones.

Granted, there's winter pruning to contend with, and summers are consumed with harvest. But for the most part, it's pretty much a low-maintenance crop.

And then there's the ease of preparation. Talk about a convenience food: No pitting, no peeling, no puttering. Even freezing is a snap.

This makes blueberries the perfect fruit for people who have to put off making preserves until fall or winter. Just pack the berries into freezer bags and pop them into the freezer.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.