I’m constantly humbled by the whole of God’s creation. As a city-born, city-raised girl, country life and country living were foreign to me. Now I’m in my late 40s, and you couldn’t pull me kicking and screaming back to the city.
I sit here in my office looking out the window to the place my husband is preparing to build a chicken pen. We’ve got a fenced in area where we’re threatening to put a calf or two to raise. I’ve got a small garden that is giving me grief this year, but I refuse to give in. Behind the garden sits the first beehive we’ve acquired and the “bee-zebo” my husband built to make them look nice against the landscape and not just have a bunch of boxes sitting around on concrete blocks.
And then there are our blueberry bushes.
If you could think of one perfect food, the blueberry has to be right up there at the top of the list. Blueberries are rich in vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene as well as rich in the minerals potassium, manganese, magnesium. In addition, they’re a cornucopia of antioxidants with their anti-cancer properties, and may very well keep senile dementia at bay.
There are many varieties of blueberries and the ones most hardy in your neck of the woods is dependent on the section of country in which you live. I live in the Deep South, and the rabbit-eye variety grows very well here. All blueberries require an acidic, well-drained soil with plenty of mulch to keep the moisture in the soil and weeds at bay. The soil should have a pH of 4.5 to 5.5 for optimum growth and production. They require a certain amount of chill hours (hours that the plant is subjected to temperatures below 45 degrees) a year in order to bear fruit the following spring.
For example, we have three varieties of rabbit-eye blueberries right now: Brightwell, Climax, and Premier. The Brightwell bushes only require 350 to 400 chill hours while the Premier requires 500 to 550 and the Climax falls somewhere in between. Having at least two different cultivars is essential to bountiful blueberry production. Most varieties require cross-pollination to bear. Even if a variety is self-pollinating, having another cultivar in the same family will increase your production.
Blueberries should be planted in the late fall, and there are differing opinions from different state extension agencies on when to prune. It appears that where you live and your climate determines when to prune your bushes. In the South, pruning is done immediately after all fruit is harvested and no later than August. In other areas of the United States, pruning is done in the fall and winter. Call your county extension office to determine when it is the proper time to prune blueberry bushes in your area.
There are so many things that you can do with blueberries, from making muffins, pancakes, and pound cakes, to adding them to ice cream and gelatin desserts. They can be frozen or canned, whichever you prefer. If freezing, do not wash the blueberries beforehand. The powdery coating is a protection of sorts from the cold temperatures in the freezer. Wash them right before use. Frozen blueberries appear to do better in cakes and pound cakes that bake for a while.
You can also pressure can blueberries and this is my preferred method for those I’ll use in pancakes or muffins. Since it’s only my husband and me, I put them up in 4 ounce jars, but if you have a bigger family you may want to use 8 ounce jars. It’s so nice to be able to pop the top, rinse the berries and plop them in the batter with little or no fuss. Since pancakes and muffins cook rather quickly, the softened pre-cooked berries do well in these recipes.
The following is a recipe for a blueberry pound cake that my family just loves.
- 1 – 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
- 3 eggs
- 1 – box yellow butter flavored cake mix
- 2 cups frozen blueberries, rinsed well
- 12 ounces applesauce
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 10” tube pan. Combine all ingredients except the blueberries and beat until smooth. (The batter will have a grainy textured consistency because of the applesauce.) Fold in the blueberries. Spoon the batter into the pan, and bake about 1 hour or until the cake springs back when pressed. Remove from oven and allow to cool.