“You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson's pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!"
--Robert Frost, “Blueberries”
The 4th of July brings fireworks, Early Harvest applesauce, and blueberry cobbler. In fact, the entire month of July is given to celebrating National Blueberries Month, sponsored by the North American Blueberry Council.
Throughout July, you can enjoy blueberry salad, blueberries on cereal, blueberry muffins, blueberry pancakes, blueberry pie, blueberry crisp, ice cream with blueberries. Blueberries are plentiful in supermarkets this time of year, and are also appearing at farmers’ markets in the area.
A delicious skillet blueberry cobbler recipe appears in “The 150 Best American Recipes” edited by Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens. This recipe came from Ezra Stovall, who lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, by way of her grandson, who told his wife, who shared it with a friend. Melt a stick of butter in a cast iron skillet, add berries, then top with a batter and bake.
For new recipes using blueberries, try the luscious Blueberry Pudding Cake in Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything: 2,000 simple recipes for great food” or the Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes in “Veganomicon” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, both in the Library’s collection.
The nutritional benefits of blueberries’ high antioxidant content are well known. Experts recommend eating a half cup daily to strengthen memory, ward off Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cancer.
To consume that volume of berries, you must have a steady supply.
Fortunately, blueberries are an excellent plant for the home garden because they are easy to grow and make an attractive addition to the landscape. They are well-suited to our mountain climate. They require acidic soil and good drainage, have few pests, and need little maintenance other than occasional pruning. A single mature bush will easily yield 8-10 pounds of fruit, enough for a daily serving of berries for a month. Birds love the berries, too, so consider the philosophy of the folks in the big house in Robert Lawson’s charming classic “Rabbit Hill”, and plant enough for all. Or build a sturdy enclosure to protect your investment.
For information about growing blueberries as well as other small fruits, check out “The Berry Grower’s Companion” by Barbara L. Bowling or “The Berry Book : the illustrated home gardener's guide to growing and using over 50 kinds and 500 varieties of berries” by Robert Hendrickson.
Health-conscious consumers are demanding greater quantities of blueberries and this, in turn, is spurring devotion of more acreage to blueberry farming in the United States. Fruit producers are seeking sources of berries in this region and are willing to commit to buying entire crops five years out, so they provide an interesting economic development opportunity local entrepreneurs should investigate. For specific information about the market for blueberries, contact Wythe Morris, Carroll County Cooperative Extension Agent, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (276) 730-1130.
Anyone interested in growing blueberries commercially should consult “Mid-Atlantic Berry Guide for Commercial Growers”, published by Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, in cooperation with VA Tech and other agricultural colleges, in 2008. This is accessible free online at www.virginiafruit.ento.vt.edu/VirginiaSmallFruitSite.html or available for purchase for $18.00. This thorough manual covers preplanting considerations, soil management, pesticides, weed management, wildlife damage control, diagnostic services, nursery sources, and production supplies.
For the most current information about the health benefits of blueberries or about growing techniques, check out articles in a wide variety of publications from general to technical using Find It Virginia, accessible at the Library’s website at www.tcplweb.org under Electronic Resources.
If you are unable to grow your own, you may want to visit a U-Pick farm. There are several in this region, including Woodall Blueberries at New Castle (Craig), Bobs Pond Blueberry Farm at Rich Creek (Giles), Sinking Creek Farm and Windrush Farm at Newport (Giles), Crows Nest Farm at Blacksburg (Montgomery), Blueberry Hill at Flat Top (Mercer), and Daniel’s Vineyards at Crab Orchard (Raleigh). For details, visit www.pickyourown.org.
July is also the perfect time to read “Blueberries for Sal”, the 1949 Caldecott Honor Book by Robert McCloskey. A little girl and a little bear picking blueberries in the same patch each follow the other’s mother and nearly wind up with the wrong families. Follow up your family storytime with a delectable blueberry cobbler fresh from the oven. Yum!