The Tasteful Garden How to Grow and Cook What You Love to Eat

The Tasteful Garden

March 14, 2014 

Blueberry-Citrus Relish.

COURTESY OF DEBBIE MOOSE

Carol Stein grows it

If you love blueberries but lack the space for sprawling shrubs, don’t despair. Dwarf varieties will do well in containers or small garden areas.

Besides providing tasty fruit, the bushes offer blossoms in the spring, lush greenery in the summer and blazing crimson foliage in the fall.

The varieties Northsky, Northcountry and Northblue enjoy the climate from the mountains to the Piedmont. Northsky will reach about 2 feet high and wide at maturity, while the other two will get about a foot larger.

Top Hat and Sunshine Blue will be happy from the mountains to the coast. Top Hat gets 2 feet high and Sunshine Blue up to 4 feet high.

All five varieties are self-pollinating. Sunshine Blue has pink flowers, while the rest have white blossoms.

Planting blueberry bushes in March helps the root systems get established before the summer heat sets in. Select spots on the patio or in the yard that have full sun.

Use containers that are at least 2 feet tall and wide, with one plant per container. Blueberries prefer loose, moist, well-drained, acidic soils (pH of 5.0 or lower). Use a potting mix formulated for azaleas, or mix equal amounts of a fresh organic potting mix with composted pine bark.

If planting in the garden, work finely ground pine bark or organic soil conditioner into the soil before planting bushes at the same depth that they were in their nursery pots. Space multiple plants 2 to 3 feet apart.

In any location, water consistently the first year, working all the way from the center of the plant to the drip line. To keep soil evenly moist, add a layer of pine straw or composted pine bark. After the first year, make sure the plants receive an inch of water per week throughout the year. After the leaves fully emerge in late spring, use a fertilizer made for blueberries or other acid-loving plants, such as azaleas or rhododendrons.

If you can restrain yourself, it’s best to pinch off the flowers the first year rather than allowing them to produce fruit. This will let the plant focus energy on producing foliage to feed the roots and create a lush, healthy shrub. In the second year, the flowers should produce a few cups of berries per bush in late June to early July.

By the third year, expect your patience to reap several pounds of berries a year from each plant. If you have a problem with birds raiding your crop, drape bird netting, available at garden shops, over the shrubs.

Debbie Moose cooks it

My first encounter with blueberries was the can of tiny wild berries that came with a muffin mix. I liked them so much, I threw out the mix and ate from the can with a spoon.

More common in North Carolina are the large, plump highbush or rabbiteye blueberries – and I think they’re all good.

Blueberries have been dubbed a “superfood” containing lots of antioxidants, as do other blue and purple fruits and vegetables.

One cup of blueberries contains 24 percent of the daily suggested amount of vitamin C and 36 percent of vitamin K, according to the N.C. Blueberry Council. Check with your doctor if you’re taking medications that are affected by vitamin K consumption before pigging out on blueberries.

Fresh blueberries can be refrigerated for up to a week. Keep them in a container that breathes a bit, not in an airtight bag. Don’t wash them until just before you plan to eat or use them.

Every summer, I fill my freezer with bags of blueberries to carry me through the gray winter. They’re super-easy to freeze: Remove any soft fruits, stems or leaves from your batch, then spread the berries on a cookie sheet and put it in the freezer until the berries freeze hard. Using the cookie sheet ensures that the berries freeze separately. Then you can put them in freezer bags and shake out just the amount of loose berries that you want.

Muffins, pancakes, scones and pies are all great uses for blueberries. But I wanted to come up with something different. This not-too-sweet relish would go well atop grilled chicken or fish, or as a topping for cream cheese or brie as a party snack.

Reach Carol Stein and

Debbie Moose at tastefulgarden@hotmail.com.

Blueberry-Citrus Relish

Bitters provide an intriguing herbal flavor, but beware; too much turns medicinal. This is not a sweet relish and would go with savory dishes.

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

1/2 large navel orange, seeds removed and cut into chunks

1/2 small lemon, seeds removed and cut into chunks

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon Angostura bitters (see Notes)

IF using frozen blueberries, thaw and drain them well first. Place blueberries in a large bowl.

GRIND the orange and lemon chunks coarsely by pulsing in a blender a little at a time. Leave some texture in the orange and lemon; do not puree them. Add both to the blueberries.

STIR the sugar and bitters together in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons of water until the sugar is dissolved. Add to the blueberry mixture and toss with a spoon to combine the ingredients.

SERVE immediately.

Yield: About 3 cups.

 

Notes: Find Angostura bitters in the cocktail mixer or beer and wine section of the supermarket. Bitters contain a small amount of alcohol. Letting the relish sit longer than 30 minutes or so may cause liquid to accumulate in the bowl and soften the blueberries. You can drain the liquid and use the relish, but it won’t be as good as using it immediately.

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