Blueberries are native to North America and were used extensively by the Native Americans. In the early 1600’s, explorers spotted them harvesting and preserving blueberries by the shores of Lake Huron. Lewis and Clark were served a meal that had blueberries pounded into the meat-which was then smoked and dried.
It was not until the mid-twentieth century that breeding and research programs produced improved varieties and refrigerated transportation that made it possible for people around the world to enjoy this nutritious berry. The new domesticated varieties now have much larger, sweeter and better quality varieties.
Blueberries are a perennial shrub that can grow up to 6 to 7 feet tall at maturity. If they are properly maintained, their productivity will continue for up to 40 to 50 years. That means that a really healthy plant has the potential of producing up to 300 pounds of fruit in a lifetime.
The Willems family comes from a long family heritage of German descent farmers who came to California in the late 1800’s to farm this fertile soil. In the year 2000, Paul and Gayle decided to start planting blueberries as an addition to their small family farming operation. They now farm and package 100 acres of blueberries, blackberries and boysenberries by the beautiful Kings River in Kingsburg, California. Their three grown sons also farm berries in this area.
Buying and Storing Fresh Blueberries:
Fresh blueberries are available in Central California in mid-May to early July. They need to be stored in cool conditions and not washed until used for maximum shelf life. When purchasing fresh blueberries, look for berries that are dark blue and have a soft white bloom. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
If you plan on freezing blueberries, do not wash them before packaging. Simply put them in Ziploc bags. It is not necessary to first freeze them on trays.
Berry Health Benefits:
Berries help protect against cancer, heart disease and the effects of aging. Fresh berries are some of the most powerful (and delicious) foods available for fighting disease.
One cup of blueberries provides:
- Only 80 calories
- 5 grams of fiber
- The best source of antioxidants of any fruits and vegetables
- A high source of Vitamin C, folic acid and phytonutrients
- A sodium and cholesterol free treat that is low in fat
- A delicious way to reach your “5 a Day” as recommended by the USDA