Freshly harvested Oregon blueberries – one of the joys of summer – are on the way and this year’s crop is looking bigger and better than ever. In fact, Oregon growers are expected to harvest more than 60 million pounds of blueberries this year, a new production record.

A bumper crop of fresh blueberries is good news for customers who have increasingly become aware of the advantages of buying local and buying fresh.

While we tend to think of blueberries as simply a tasty summer treat, blueberries have been named one of the Super Foods for a healthy mind and body.

It’s the super food designation that has driven blueberry production and sales increases in recent years. With such large production numbers, Oregon remains one of the top producing states in the nation.

Fresh blueberries are a hot commodity these days for a lot of reasons with incredible taste, the highest quality and high nutritional value being just a few.

Growers routinely realize the highest crop yields per acre compared to any other state, an estimated 9,000 pounds per acre. Oregon farms range from large operations that ship their crop to both national and international buyers to small family farms with less than ten acres offering on-farm sales.

While Oregon blueberries may have advantages when it comes to taste and quality, it’s the international interest in nutrition and healthy eating that have fueled the growth.

In general, blueberries are a very rich source of antioxidant phytonutrients.

Antioxidants refer to the negative oxidation properties or compounds found in blueberries. Certain natural fruits and vegetables supply the body with chemicals which react against particularly harmful oxidants associated with elements (“free radicals”) which can damage a wide variety of functions and internal processes

Just one-half cup of blueberries helps you on your way to meeting the USDA’s recommended goal of five to nine servings a day of fruits and vegetables. The Five-a-Day The Color Way program suggests that to achieve optimal health benefits, we should choose colorful fruits and vegetables daily from each of the five color groups. Blueberries are a proud member of the Blue/Purple group.

When it comes to taste and nutrition, Oregon blueberries are the true blue. Their sweet, fruity flavor has been enjoyed for years and now thanks to research going on in labs across the U.S. and Canada, there’s big news about the blues. These tasty little berries are, in fact, powerful disease fighters.

Research shows that blueberries contain natural compounds that help our bodies stay healthy and may help prevent age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration and some forms of cancer. With only 40 fat-free calories per half-cup, blueberries are also a great source of fiber and vitamin C. A serving of blueberries is a quick way to help meet the USDA’s recommendation of colorful fruits every day.

Roast Cornish Game Hens with Sautéed Blueberries

Chef/owner Cory Schreiber Wildwood Restaurant, Portland, Oregon, sautés blueberries in butter with a splash of wine guaranteed to enhance any fowl or game dish.

Depending on the flavorings you choose, a basic blueberry sauce, salsa or chutney can go in many delicious directions.

4 halves (about 3 pounds) Cornish game hens or squabs, halved

2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

16 garlic cloves, peeled

2 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided

2 Tbsp honey

6 thyme sprigs

1/3 cup shallot, minced

2 cups blueberries

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Rub hens with balsamic vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Place on a rack in a roasting pan; roast until thigh juices run clear, about 35 minutes.

To prepare garlic: Blanch cloves in boiling water. In a skillet, combine 1 tablespoon of the butter, the honey, thyme, garlic and 1/2 cup water. Simmer until liquid is reduced to a syrup and garlic turns golden brown, stirring often, about 20 minutes; remove thyme sprigs.

To prepare sautéed blueberries: In a skillet, over medium heat, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Add shallots; cook and stir until tender, about 3 minutes. Add blueberries; cook until they soften, about 4 minutes. Stir in red wine vinegar; simmer until mixture has a saucy consistency, about 2 minutes.

To serve: Arrange each hen half on wilted escarole, if desired. Spoon sautéed blueberries and sweet garlic cloves around hens.

Yield: 8 portions (about 2 cups sauce)

Blueberry Waldorf Salad

1 cup fresh or thawed frozen blueberries, divided

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 Tbsp orange marmalade     

2 teaspoons lemon juice        

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard    

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 cups (about 4 ounces) baby spinach

1 tart apple (e.g. Granny Smith), cored and thinly sliced    2 ribs celery, cut into 1-1/2-inch matchsticks

(about 1 cup)   

1/3 cup pecan or walnut halves, toasted

To prepare dressing:

In a blender container, combine 1/2 cup of the blueberries, oil, marmalade, lemon juice, mustard and salt; blend until a smooth, thick dressing forms. In a bowl, toss spinach with apple slices, celery, pecans and remaining 1/2 cup blueberries.

Arrange equally on four serving plates. Just before serving, blend dressing again until smooth; drizzle over the salads. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutritional Information: 255 calories, 19g carbohydrate, 20g total fat, 2g saturated fat

Recipe developed by Lewis & Neale for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council

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