Blueberry harvest well worth the wait
The folks at Bennett Orchards have branched out: they’re now in the blueberry business. In his talk at the Historic Lewes Farmers Market last week, Henry Bennett shared the story of how his family transformed eight acres of their farm in Frankford into prime blueberry territory. Already known for their peaches, which come to market in later July, the blueberry harvest from mid-June through mid-July will add to the Orchard’s repertoire of fresh-picked fruit.
Before the Bennetts planted a single blueberry bush, they researched the specific growing requirements by consulting with experienced producers in New Jersey, Oregon and Michigan. In addition, the Delaware Cooperative Extension worked closely with the Orchard staff as they lowered the pH and tailored fertilizer to amend the soil for the plants’ new home. Drip irrigation, sandy soil and at least eight hours of direct sun all contribute to ideal conditions.
The next decision was to choose which varieties, since there are so many different cultivars. In order to have a reliable supply of berries they selected five types with successive ripening times. Once the blueberry bushes were planted (over 5,600 of them) they were given two years to establish sturdy limbs and roots. The blossoms were removed during those two years, so the plant’s energy wasn’t spent on fruit, but on strengthening its structure and size.
This is the first year of blueberry harvest and the results were worth waiting for. All the berries are picked by hand (not machine) and the pickers return to the bushes twice each day to reap the ripest berries, leaving the green ones until they’re ready for market. In the photos you can see the faint whitish “bloom” on the ripe berries, a signature of freshness and something you won’t find on typical supermarket offerings.
During the presentation at the HLFM, the audience sampled all five different types and the show of hands voted Spartan the most popular (which makes sense, since they’re at their prime). The first of the season were Duke, followed by Spartan (a graceful sprig of which can be seen in the photo). Draper (an excellent choice for cooking and freezing) will be available later this month, along with Blueray and Bluecrop.
Blueberries are one of the few fruits indigenous to North America and have grown in the wild for centuries. Native Americans called them “star berries” in reference to the five-pointed star seen on the blossom end of each berry. They used blueberries both as a food source and for medicinal purposes. Dried berries would be powdered and mixed with meat to create a preserved food similar to jerky. Roots of the plant were brewed into tea for women during childbirth and fruit syrups would treat coughs.
One of the earliest cooked dishes featuring blueberries was a pudding known as sautauthig (pronounced sauf-taw-teeg). Resembling a blueberry cornmeal mush, many historians believe this would have been served at the original Thanksgiving in Plymouth. The recipe here reflects the changes the Pilgrims made to the original version prepared by the Native Americans: the new settlers preferred their porridge sweet and rich.
A tasty feature of the demo was the chance to sample Carrie Bennett’s Blueberry Salsa and Blueberry Mint lemonade. She shared her recipes, which appear below. I’ve also included my favorite blueberry cobbler recipe, sized for one serving to save some berries for my morning cereal.
1 1/2 C water
1 1/2 C milk
3/4 C cornmeal
1/2 t salt
2 T maple syrup
2 C fresh blueberries
Combine water and milk in a saucepan and heat until almost boiling (bubbles will start to form around the edges). Slowly pour in cornmeal, stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming.
Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in syrup and gently fold in berries.
Bennett’s Blueberry Lemonade
4 12-oz cans frozen lemonade concentrate
juice of 4 lemons
3/4 C sugar
2 bunches of fresh mint
3 C water
1 pt fresh blueberries
3 C ice cubes
3 sliced lemons
Thaw lemonade concentrate and mix with lemon juice and sugar in a large bowl. Crush the mint sprigs and add to the bowl.
Transfer mixture to a one-gallon pitcher and stir in water; refrigerate overnight.
To serve, remove mint sprigs and stir in blueberries, ice cubes and lemon slices.
Bennett’s Blueberry Salsa
3 C fresh blueberries
1/4 C lemon juice
3 T chopped cilantro
2 seeded, minced jalapenos
1/3 C diced red bell pepper
2 large tomatoes, diced
1/2 t sea salt
Coarsely chop 2 C of the blueberries and place in a large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients.
Chill for at least one hour before serving.
Blueberry Cobbler for One
1 C fresh blueberries
1 t sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 t lemon zest
2 t butter
1 T brown sugar
1 T flour
2 T rolled oats
1/8 t cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place the berries in a 2-cup baking dish and toss with sugar, lemon juice and zest; set aside. In a small owl, combine the butter and brown sugar with a pastry blender. Add remaining ingredients and mix until blended. Scatter topping mixture over berries. Bake until bubbling, about 25 minutes.