By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
We are just now in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts being fried by one of the worst heat waves in our long history. Mitigating factors are few and far between, and meteorologists are enjoying themselves digging for obscure facts that do nothing to reduce the debilitating heat. Only one thing helps in this climate, and that is… blueberries.
And so that is the subject of today’s reflections. And not a moment too soon, for today promises to be another scorcher.
Author’s Program Note. Before continuing, I want to remind you of a most appropriate tune that will provide just the right background for remarks. You’ve known this tune your entire life. It was recorded by many artists, perhaps most notably Louis Armstrong in 1949. Then Fats Domino, in the 1950s, recorded a rock n’ roll version. It is, of course, “Blueberry Hill”, and I suggest you go to any search engine and find your favorite rendition. If you’re alone (but only if you’re alone) belt out your favorite version. You’ll have fun doing it. But make sure the neighbors are not in ear shot. They will not understand.
My sentiments on blueberries.
I am a prodigious eater of blueberries. I don’t just eat them, I live for them. Why, the room in which I am writing you today was even painted in a delicious shade called “blueberry muffin”. At $3.99 a box at Montrose Spa (the nearest place for blueberries) but not always the best quality (Shaw’s Market in Porter Square takes the prize) I am a significant supporter of the entire blueberry industry. Indeed, I say (with pride) that during blueberry season I dispose of thousands of them, very few (I confess) shared with another. Which is why I want to share my special poem about blueberries with you. It is in the nature of a declaration and must be treated as such:
Touch my blueberries at your risk; each one is mine and must for me be kept.
Of course you want a basket, then you want more but have them here you must not nor even dream.
For these berries each and every one are mine.
And don’t attempt to beg for more these berries are as I have politely said all mine and shoo you off I would if you should transgress.
A scene is small price for every berry on the hill.
And now I sense you are about to cry and beg for blues you cannot resist but these (I must insist) are mine.
And if you fail to find and pick (for fail you must) and forced to other hills and selfish folk the same will be… those berries, too, will be for me.
But that’s the way it must be for berries and I make two and have no need of thee, for three.
Some facts about blueberries.
Blueberries are flowering plants of the genus Vaccinium (a genus that also includes cranberries and bilberries). The berries themselves are blue and sometimes purple in hue and are perennial. Species in the section Cyanococcus are the most common fruits sold as “blueberries” and are mainly native to North America.
Blueberry flowers are bell-shaped, white, pale pink or red, sometimes tinged greenish. The fruit is a berry 5-16 millimeters (0.20-0.63 inch) in diameter with a flared crown at the end. They are pale greenish at first, then reddish-purple, and finally dark blue when ripe.
Blueberries have a sweet taste when mature, with variable acidity. Blueberry bushes typically bear fruit in the middle of the growing season; fruiting times are affected by local conditions such as altitude and latitude, so the height of the crop can vary from May to August.
Cultivated or wild bushes.
Blueberries may be cultivated, or they may be picked from semi-wild or wild bushes. In North America, the most common cultivated species is V. corymbosum, the Northern highbush blueberry.
So called “wild” (lowbush) blueberries, smaller than cultivated highbush ones, are prized for their intense color. The lowbush blueberry, V. angustifolium, is found from the Atlantic provinces westward to Quebec and southward to Michigan and West Virginia.
Blueberry connoisseurs may engage in heated exchanges on the merits of both varieties. I aver, indeed I insist, that the so-called wild version is not only the most beautiful variety but the most tasty, too. I came to this unshakable conclusion one afternoon when returning from Maine, arguably the capital of blueberry nation. The traffic moved so slowly I was able to stop at every roadside stand to taste, purely in the spirit of science, both varieties in ample measure… first sampling one, then the other, then back to the first, thereby avoiding any hint of prejudice. My verdict is final.
Where blueberries are grown.
Maine produces 25% of all lowbush blueberries in North America, easily making it the largest producer in the world. Its blueberry industry was propagated from native plants that occur naturally in the understory of its coastal forests. The Maine crop requires about 50,000 beehives for pollination, with most of the hives trucked in from other states for that purpose. The wild blueberry (my favorite as noted above) is Maine’s official fruit, and rightly so. Taciturn Mainers do not like to admit its superiority; for them, as for me, “they’re mine”.
It should be stated here (in the interests of fairness) that Michigan, not Maine, is the leader in highbush production. 32 percent of such blueberries are grown there; New Jersey, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina also grow them in large numbers… but, as I told you, these (though they will always do in a pinch) lack the distinguishing characteristics prized by adamant purists like me.
Uses of blueberries.
Blueberries are sold fresh or processed as individually quick frozen fruit, puree, juice, or dried or infused berries which in turn may be used in a variety of consumer goods such as jams, jellies, blueberry pies, muffins, snack foods and cereals.
Blueberries have a diverse range of micronutrients, with notably high levels (relative to respective dietary reference intakes) of the essential dietary mineral manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K, and dietary fiber.
Especially in wild species, blueberries contain anthocyanins, other antioxidant pigments and various phytochemicals, which possibly have a role in reducing risks of some diseases, including inflammation and certain cancers. These facts, of course, bolster our affection but cannot account for our passion for this supreme fruit, enticing, seducing, secure not merely on our palate but in our hearts. For this we must turn to our musicians, our poets.
I give you “Blueberries” by Robert Frost (1874-1963). In this rattling poem, Frost, who so well knew the land and its bounties, described 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!” He made sure he was that first one, for he too knew the necessity of coming early and making sure “they’re mine”.
But we leave this colloquy with Fats Domino, who, rightly too, found his thrill on Blueberry Hill, where he, no doubt, made it clear to all comers, those blueberries, each and every one “are mine”.
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About The Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is , where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at http://homeprofitcoach.com/associates
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