'Go Blue!' Michigan leads U.S. in blueberry production

Small berries pack a punch

 

“I was pretty surprised myself when I found out that Michigan leads the nation when it comes to cultivated blueberries,” according to Nicki Milgrom, organizer with the Ecology Center’s Healthy Food in Health Care program. “Makes me wonder why I eat blueberries from anywhere else!”

blueberries window decalMichigan grows nearly a third of all the blueberries eaten in the United States, and now is the season they’re at their prime. “The season for fresh Michigan blueberries generally runs mid-July through late September, but they can be enjoyed year round through freezing or other preserving steps,” Milgrom says. 

Blueberries are the second of four product promotions of Cultivate Michigan– the local purchasing initiative of the Michigan Farm to Institution Network, which is co-led by Ecology Center and Michigan State Center for Regional Food Systems. The goal of the program is to help institutions get more Michigan foods on their plates and menus.

“One of the major perks of buying local, other than investing in our local communities, is knowing where your food comes from and how it got to your plate, and building a relationship with the person who grows it,” Milgrom says. “Know your farmer, know your food.”

Earlier this month, Cultivate Michigan invited food purchasers, farmers, suppliers and others to tour a Michigan blueberry farm and a certified processing plant to help forge those stronger connections.

“We spent the day with lively Barbara Norman, wandering the seemingly endless rows of blueberries on the 53 acres that her family has owned and cultivated in Covert for six generations,” Milgrom says. The group then toured True Blue, a nearby processing plant where Norman sends her picked berries.

“We learned about varieties of blueberries, some challenges of berry farming in Michigan, and Norman’s current transition to organic. Barbara is steadfast in her belief that if ever there is a person who claims they don’t like blueberries, they simply haven’t found the variety they like because there are so many different types and each is completely different.”

Milgrom reports she was skeptical at first, “but I can attest to this myself having done side by side taste tests of a few Jersey variety berries from one row and Bluecrop variety from another–the difference was astounding. And no matter which variety we each preferred, one thing was clear – the flavor profile of a fresh Michigan blueberry was simply off the charts.” 

Though blueberries may be small, they pack a mighty punch, both in taste and nutrients. Each cup is packed full of heart helping antioxidants, with only 84 calories but 14 percent of the daily recommendation for fiber.

Fresh or frozen blueberries can be used in a wide variety of recipes, in salads, salad dressings, smoothies, yogurt parfaits, breakfast bars, sauces, snacks, baked goods and desserts. Here's a more creative recipe is modified from one featured in the Cultivate Michigan blueberry purchasing guide, courtesy of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

Blueberry Turkey Burgers with Blueberry Ketchup

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground turkey, 85% lean
  • 3/4 c fresh or frozen (not thawed) Michigan blueberries
  • 1 T minced fresh ginger
  • 1 T minced lemongrass (optional)
  • 1 t coarse black pepper
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 4 hamburger buns
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • Lettuce and sliced red onion for garnish (optional)

Blueberry Ketchup

  • 1.5 cup fresh or frozen (not thawed) Michigan blueberries
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 T pickled ginger or minced fresh ginger

Directions

For the blueberry ketchup:

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine blueberries, onion, vinegar, sugar, salt and ginger.
  2. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  4. Place mixture in a blender or food processor, and whirl until smooth.
  5. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the turkey burgers:

  1. In a large bowl, combine turkey, blueberries, ginger, lemongrass and black pepper. Mix well, and form mixture into 4 patties.
  2. Brush soy sauce on both sides of burgers.
  3. In an oiled skillet over medium-high heat or on a grill, grill patties until cooked thoroughly, about 4 minutes each side.
  4. Serve on buns with lettuce, sliced red onion and blueberry ketchup.

EcoLink — August 2014
An online publication of the Ecology Center

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