Blueberries offer health benefits and good eating

“Let your food be your medicine,” so said Hippocrates, the father of medicine. Using nature as a pharmacy can be traced back through ancient civilizations.

Modern research is “discovering” the natural health properties of certain foods, blueberries, for example. Blueberries are considered a “super fruit,” so it is only fitting they should have their own month. July is National Blueberry Month.

Blueberries are high in vitamin C, folate, fiber and phytocemicals. Phytochemicals, vitamins and other nutrients, which protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, are called antioxidants, which are thought to help protect the body against the chronic diseases associated with the aging process. Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals, which are unstable molecules that are linked to the development of a number of degenerative diseases and conditions including cancer, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, immune dysfunction, cataracts and macular degeneration. Fruits and vegetables are sources of natural antioxidants, and blueberries have one of the highest levels of antioxidant activity.

Besides being good for you, blueberries just taste good. They are easy to grow, too. Ed Mattox, owner of Mattox Feed Mill and Garden Center in Aberdeen, said blueberry bushes have been a hot item for the last few years. Blueberries are great to eat out of hand, but also are naturals in desserts and salads.

Blueberry Bread Pudding

3 cups milk

3 large eggs

5 to 6 cups day-old torn French or Italian bread or rolls

1 cup granulated sugar

1⁄4 teaspoon almond extract

1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1⁄2 teaspoon lemon zest, optional

2 cups fresh blueberries

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350°. Butter an 11-x7-inch baking dish.

Whisk together the milk, eggs, sugar, flavorings, and zest. Add the bread and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Toss blueberries with powdered sugar then stir into the bread mixture. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Set the baking dish in a larger pan and set in oven. Add about 4 cups of very hot water to the outer pan. Use hot water from tap or bring water to almost simmering before adding to the larger pan. Bake for about 1 hour, or until the bread pudding is set and lightly browned on top.

Serves 8 to 10.

Blueberry-Lemon Chess Squares

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, rinsed

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Zest of 1 lemon, divided

1 box yellow cake mix, butter or lemon

4 eggs, divided

1 stick butter, softened

23⁄4 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 (8 oz. package) cream cheese

In a bowl, combine blueberries with sugar, lemon juice and half of the lemon zest. Set aside. Mix cake mix with 1 egg, softened butter and the remaining lemon zest. Pat into a buttered and floured 13×9-inch baking pan.

In a mixing bowl with hand-held electric mixer, beat confectioners’ sugar with cream cheese and remaining 3 eggs until smooth. Gently stir in blueberry mixture; pour over cake. Bake in a preheated 325° oven for about 45 to 55 minutes, or until browned. Cool completely, then chill and cut into squares.

Serve with fresh blueberries and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, if desired. Store in the refrigerator.

Lemon Blueberry Pancakes

1 egg

1 cup flour

3⁄4 cup milk

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon baking powder

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1⁄2 cup fresh blueberries, or use frozen thawed blueberries

Beat egg until frothy; beat in remaining ingredients except blueberries, just until smooth. Gently stir in blueberries. Grease a heated griddle. For each pancake, pour about 3 tablespoons of batter from a large spoon or from pitcher onto the hot griddle. Cook pancakes until puffed and dry around edges. Turn and cook other side until golden brown.

Blueberry French Toast Casserole

12 slices white bread, crusts removed

2 packages (16 ounces total) cream cheese

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed

12 eggs

2 cups milk

1⁄3 cup maple syrup or other syrup

Sauce:

1⁄2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1⁄2 cup water

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

1 tablespoon butter

Cut bread into 1 inch cubes; place half in a greased 13x9x2-inch baking dish.

Cut cream cheese into 1 inch cubes; place over bread. Top with blueberries and remaining bread. In a large bowl, beat eggs. Whisk in milk and syrup, blending well. Pour egg mixture over bread mixture. Cover and chill 8 hours or overnight. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Cover with foil and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover; bake 25-30 minutes more or until golden brown and the center is set.

In a saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch; add water. Bring to a boil over medium heat; boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in blueberries; reduce heat. Simmer for 8-10 minutes or until berries burst. Stir in butter until melted. Serve sauce with French toast.

Serves 6 to 8

Blueberry Conserve

1 medium orange

1 medium lemon

3 cups water

5 cups sugar

1⁄2 cup dark seedless raisins

6 cups blueberries, washed and drained

Peel the orange and the lemon, making sure none of the white layer comes with it; chop very fine (or use a zester). Remove and chop the orange and lemon pulp, discarding seeds. Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a large stainless steel pot, then add the orange, lemon, and raisins; simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the blueberries; cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 30 minutes. Pour boiling hot water into hot 1⁄2-pint jars, leaving 1⁄4-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling-water bath canner for 10 minutes. Remove and complete seals if necessary.

Use as a topping for ice cream, pound cake, or bread pudding.

Fresh Blueberry Sauce

2 cups fresh blueberries

1⁄3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Wash and crush blueberries; add sugar, lemon juice and salt. Mix well. In a small saucepan, bring blueberry mixture to a boil; boil 1 minute. Add vanilla. Chill. Serve over puddings, cake, or ice cream.

Blueberry Jello Salad

1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple in juice

2 packages (3 ounces each) blackberry or black raspberry Jello

3 cups boiling water

1 can (15 ounces) blueberries, drained

8 ounces sour cream (1 cup)

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1⁄2 cup sugar

Chopped nuts

Drain pineapple; reserve juice. Dissolve Jello in boiling water; stir in reserved pineapple juice. Chill until slightly set, about the consistency of unbeaten egg white. Stir in pineapple and blueberries. Pour into a 9x6x2-inch pan; chill until firm. Combine sour cream, cream cheese, and sugar; mix well until smooth and well blended. Spread over blueberry Jello salad and top with chopped pecans or walnuts. Serves 6 to 8.

Blueberry Spinach Salad

Makes 8 servings

3⁄4 cup vegetable oil

1⁄2 cup raspberry vinegar

3 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoon granulated sugar

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

6 cups fresh spinach, torn

6-ounces feta, crumbled

2 cup fresh blueberries

3⁄4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Whisk oil with vinegar, mustard, sugar and salt. Add spinach to a large bowl and sprinkle with feta, blueberries and walnuts. Drizzle dressing over salad or serve on the side.

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

Serves 6

1 cup all purpose flour

1⁄2 cup whole wheat flour

1⁄4 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone ground

2 tablespoons sugar

11⁄4 teaspoons baking powder

1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1-1⁄2 cups fresh blueberries, washed and patted dry

2 eggs

1-1⁄2 cups buttermilk

2 tablespoons melted shortening

2 tablespoons milk, if needed

Sift dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add blueberries and toss gently. Beat eggs, add buttermilk and shortening. Add to dry ingredients. Mix gently until moistened but do not overmix. Batter should be thick enough to hold berries in place. If too thick, thin with milk.

Measure 1⁄4 cup batter onto greased hot skillet. Cook approximately 3 minutes, turn, and cook on second side another 3 minutes or until both sides are golden brown. Serve with extra berries and toppings of your choice.

Barbara Harrington/Monroe Journal