THEY HAVE been called whortleberries and hurtleberries, bilberries and huckleberries. By any other name, blueberries would still be sweet. Blueberries grow wild the world over, and it's difficult to find a culture that doesn't relish them.
In the wilderness here, blueberries once were plentiful. Early settlers had only to take a wooden bucket or basket to the thickets to pick from heavily laden bushes, the only thorn being that bears and snakes were equally fond of the berry patches.
Indians would paddle their canoes close to the edge of a riverbank thick with blueberry bushes, shake the branches or tap them with a paddle, and a rich harvest of plump berries would fall into baskets in the canoe.
The Indians ate the berries fresh and baked them in sweet breads and puddings; but they also dried them in baskets or on rush mats, to be ground into a powder used to season and thicken soups of wild game, such as duck or venison.
Blueberries, now cultivated commercially and in home gardens, are available from May to mid-October. A cupful is a modest 85 calories and provides vitamins A and B, ascorbic acid, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, iron and potassium. This same cup of blueberries also provides 1 gram of fat and 1 gram of protein, and 21 grams of carbohydrates.
The earliest berries usually come from North Carolina and New Jersey, with the peak of the season in July and August. The later crops come from Michigan, and again, New Jersey. When buying fresh blueberries, look for firm, plump and purplish berries. Don't buy berries that are shriveled or sticky. One pint of fresh blueberries should serve four or five. s However, for heartier servings or heartier appetites, better buy extra.
When you take fresh blueberries home, do not hurry to the sink and wash them. Instead, spread them loosely in a shallow container that will allow air to circulate. This prevents the berries from crushing each other and reduces spoilage.
Refrigerate the berries at once, and plan to use them within one or two days. Berries can be stored longer, but for no more than a few days, as quality diminishes. The best blueberries are fresh-picked or recently brought to market. Anyone who has gone berry picking can verify the pleasure of eating blueberries as soon as they are plucked. Who cannot picture a straw-hatted little boy, with blueberry juice smeared over his freckled face, and few, if any, berries in his gathering pail?
Other than such al fresco pleasure, when it is time to serve blueberries, wash them in ice cold water, handling them as little as possible. Drain them very briefly and serve plain, with a sprinkling of brown sugar, or cream or yogurt. Fresh blueberries are amiable companions for other fresh fruits and melons, and in salads and gelatins.
Blueberries may be dry frozen, sugar packed or syrup packed. Frozen berries suffer very little quality loss.Just remember, when using frozen berries as a "fresh" ingredient, thaw the berries partially, not completely. Also remember that partially thawed blueberries in a batter will add moisture, so reduce the amount of liquid slightly. Blueberries keep well in a freezer for up to one year. A ten-ounce package of frozen blueberries serves two or three persons.
Blueberries are among the easiest berries to use, requiring no peeling, caping or seeding. A quick rinsing and picking over, and they're ready to serve or to use in a wealth of recipes. Where blueberries are concerned, the blue sky's the limit. GERMAN BLUEBERRY KUCHEN (6 to 9 servings) 1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons baking powder 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar 1/4 cup soft shortening 2/3 cup milk 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind 1 egg 1 cup blueberries
Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and 3/4 cup sugar. Add shortening, milk, vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind. Beat with electric mixer on medium speed for 3 minutes, or about 300 strokes by hand.
Add egg and beat 2 minutes more, or about 200 strokes. Turn into greased 8-by-8-by-2-inch pan.
Lightly stir together blueberries, 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind. Sprinkle over batter in pan. Bake in 350-degree oven 40 to 45 minutes until lightly brown. Cool slightly in pan and cut in squares. Serve warm. BLUEBERRY BELL CRUNCH (6 servings) 1 pint blueberries 2 tablespoons flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup granulated sugar 2 tablespoons lemon juice Topping: 1 cup flour 1 cup quick oatmeal 1/2 cup brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 cup butter
Combine blueberries, 2 tablespoons flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and lemon juice and spread in a well-greased 9-inch pie pan. Combine topping ingredients until they resemble coarse meal. Pack over blueberry mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. BLUEBERRY MUFFINS (Makes a big batch; how many depends on size muffin cups used) 2/3 cup butter, melted 1/2 cup sugar 3 eggs 3 cups flour 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup milk 1 1/2 cups blueberries, dredged in flour
Combine butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to egg mixture alternately with milk. Stir in blueberries. Fill greased muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake standard-size muffins 20 minutes at 400 degrees, reduce time for smaller muffin tins. BEAUFORT BLUEBERRY DUMPLINGS (4 to 6 servings) 1/2 cup butter 1 cup flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 tablespoon plus 3/4 cup sugar Pinch of salt 4 tablespoons milk 1 quart blueberries 2 cups water Cream for garnish
Cut butter into flour, baking powder, 1 tablespoon sugar and salt. Add milk to form dough. Mix berries, 3/4 cup sugar and water together in pot with lid. Bring to boil. Drop walnut-sized dumplings into hot berries, cover and cook slowly over low heat for about 30 minutes. Do not remove lid while cooking. Serve with cream. GRAND MARNIER SAUCE FOR BLUEBERRIES (Makes 2 cups)
Excellent on any fresh fruit combinations. 5 egg yolks 1/2 cups sugar 1/4 to 1/2 cup Grand Marnier 1 cup heavy cream 2 tablespoons sugar
Beat egg yolks and sugar 10 minutes in double boiler over boiling water. Remove when thick, stir in half the Grand Marnier. Cool; then refrigerate. Beat cream with sugar; fold into chilled mixture. Add remaining Grand Marnier. BLUEBERRY CARROT SALAD (8 servings) 2 cups carrots, cubed to the size of blueberries 2 tablespoons vinegar 1 pint blueberries 1 egg yolk 1 teaspoon prepared mustard Juice of 1/2 lemon 1 teaspoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup sour cream Lettuce 1 tablespoon snipped dill or parsley 2 slices whole wheat bread, toasted 2 tablespoons butter
Place carrots in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove and let stand 5 minutes. Discard water. Add vinegar. Shake carrot cubes under cover and let cool in vinegar.
Wash, pick over and chill blueberries. In the bowl of electric mixer blend egg yolk, mustard, lemon juice, sugar and salt. Fold in sour cream. Then fold in blueberries, being careful not to break them. Arrange lettuce leaves in salad bowls and place blueberry-carrot mixture on top. Sprinkle with dill or parsley.
Trim crusts from toast. Cut into small cubes. Heat butter in a small skillet over medium heat, add toast cubes and turn with spatula until deep brown. Sprinkle cubes over salad and serve at once.
Note: salad may also be garnished with a sprinkling of reserved carrot cubes and blueberries.