Michigan blueberry growers are on track for crops to bounce back this season, thanks to a mild 2015-16 winter following two previous years of bitterly cold temps that hurt plants and led to lowered yields.
The growers are around the midway point and the fruits are expected to be around deep into September. But the growers on the 600 family farms that cultivate blueberries in the state aren’t in the clear yet.
“During the past two years, harsh winter conditions have held our state’s total production down,” said Larry Ensfield, CEO of MBG Marketing — a marketing co-op based in Grand Junction of more than 300 blueberry and blackberry growers across the U.S. and Canada. “This year’s mild winter will help the crop recover, but we will still be below the yield average for the amount of acres planted.”
Still, state production is expected to exceed 100 million pounds this year — a 26 percent increase over 2015. Michigan has about 22,000 acres of blueberries and that number continued to grow over the last five years, Ensfield said. The state record was 114 million pounds in 2013.
Michigan traditionally leads the nation in cultivated blueberries. Washington, Georgia and Oregon are also major producers.
“The late summer varieties are just getting started in the Southwest lower portion of the state, while the northern area of production will be about two weeks later, giving our state a good supply of fruit throughout the remainder of the season,” he said.
A good way to enjoy this season’s crop is with recipes in the new book from “Naturally Sweet,” (America’s Test Kitchen, 2016.) The cooks and editors came up with ways to reduce the sugar in a slew of desserts (including several blueberry desserts) by 30-50 percent.
If using frozen look for one of two types. Cultivated blueberries are different than wild blueberries, which are smaller and have a more intense taste than their cultivated counterparts. (Maine is by far the biggest producer of wild berries with yields that can also top 100 million pounds.)
A little less than half of the berries harvested in Michigan end up in markets, stands and u-pick baskets to be eaten fresh. About 53 percent end up as frozen and used in other products.
Most of the blueberries grown come from the west side of the state: Allegan, Berrien, Muskegon, Ottowa and Van Buren counties. Soil conditions and climate help make the west side of the state an ideal spot for the fruit, said Bob Carini of Carini Farms in West Olive, about six miles northwest of Holland.
“(Blueberries) are very specific on what kind of soil they like,” Carini said. “They like a real acid soil. It has to be on a high water table, but well drained. The soils here are perfect for that.”
The early part of the season was dry, but acceptable, Carini said. And he’s optimistic.
“This year is looking good,” he said.
But challenges remain, as is often the case with farming.
“Rainfall has been a wild card in growing this year’s crop,” Ensfield said this week. “Dry conditions prevail in some of the state’s growing areas, making for smaller berries, and placing a stress on bushes. However, some areas have had almost daily rainfall for the past 10 days, making a steady harvest difficult for growers. Lack of labor for fresh harvest this year has also been an issue for some growers, causing them to get behind on their harvest cycle.”
Even with the yearly challenges, science is helping overall, said Mark Villata, executive director of the California-based U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
“Over the past 20 years alone, the industry has unearthed mounds of scientific evidence on the health benefits of blueberries, doubled blueberry use on chain restaurant menus, begun shipping blueberries to countries across the globe and nearly tripled consumption in the U.S.,” he said. “The milestones and continued growth have resulted in the billion-dollar industry that exists today.”
Nationally, the industry is expected to grow 25 percent to 940 million pounds by 2019, according to the council.
Multipurpose baking mix
13 1/2 ounces (3 cups) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (12 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
In a large bowl, stir the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut or massage the butter into the flour with a fork, a pastry cutter, or your fingers until the mixture looks like cornmeal and the biggest pieces of butter are the size of large peas. (You can also do this in a food processor; just be sure not to overmix.) Proceed with Herbed Cheese Buttermilk Biscuits, Blueberry Scones, Shortcake Biscuits or Fruit Cobbler, or refrigerate or freeze the mixture until ready to use.
Per 1-ounce serving: 130 calories; 7 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 49 percent calories from fat); 15 g carbohydrates; 8 g sugar; 20 mg cholesterol; 180 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber.
1 recipe Multipurpose Baking Mix
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed, picked over, and patted dry
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups buttermilk; more for brushing
3 tablespoons sugar; more for sprinkling
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, combine the Baking Mix with the zest and the blueberries. Break the egg into the buttermilk and stir with a fork; add the sugar and stir briefly to combine. Make a shallow well in the dry mix and pour in the wet ingredients. With as few strokes as possible, stir until the mixture is just combined. It should be loose, but if it doesn’t hold together at all, add more buttermilk 1 tablespoon at a time.
Generously flour a counter and turn the dough out onto it; it will be shaggy and very soft. Scrape any bits in the bowl onto the mound of dough. Flour your hands. Shape the mixture into a very loose rectangle with the short side nearest you. Using a bench knife, a pastry scraper, or a spatula to help lift the ragged dough, fold the bottom third over the center third, and then the top third over the center, as if you’re folding a business letter. Pat down to shape another rectangle, turn it so the short side is nearest you, and repeat the folding. Divide the dough and shape each half into a round about 3/4- inch thick. With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour. With a sharp knife, cut the rounds into six wedges each. Brush the tops with buttermilk and sprinkle them with sugar. Bake on an ungreased baking sheet (or one lined with parchment) until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
Per serving: 260 calories; 13 g fat (7 g saturated fat; 45 percent calories from fat); 32 g carbohydrates; 18 g sugar; 50 mg cholesterol; 340 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 1 g fiber.
From “Naturally Sweet” from America’s Test Kitchen
3 tablespoons (1 ounce) Sucanat
6 whole graham crackers, broken into pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup (3 ounces) Sucanat
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons juice
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
10 ounces (2 cups) frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons Sucanat
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
For the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 9-inch springform pan. Grind Sucanat in spice grinder until fine and powdery, about 1 minute. Process cracker pieces in food processor until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Add ground Sucanat and melted butter and pulse until crumbs are evenly moistened, about 10 pulses.
Transfer mixture to prepared pan and press into even layer with bottom of dry measuring cup. Bake crust until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Let crust cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Do not turn off oven. Once cool, wrap bottom and sides of pan with 2 sheets of foil and set in large roasting pan lined with dish towel. Bring kettle of water to boil.
For the filling: Working in 2 batches, grind Sucanat and lemon zest in spice grinder until Sucanat is fine and powdery, about 1 minute. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat ground Sucanat mixture, cream cheese, and salt on medium speed until combined, 1 to 3 minutes. Add lemon juice and vanilla and beat until combined, about 1 minute, scraping down bowl as needed. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined, about 3 minutes. Add heavy cream and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute.
Strain filling through fine-mesh strainer into large bowl, using rubber spatula to help push filling through strainer. Carefully pour filling over crust. Set roasting pan on oven rack and pour enough boiling water into roasting pan to come about halfway up sides of springform pan. Bake until cake registers 150 degrees, about 1 hour.
Transfer roasting pan to wire rack, run paring knife around cake, and let cool for 45 minutes. Remove cake from roasting pan, discard foil, and let cool on wire rack until barely warm, about 3 hours, running knife around edge of cake every hour or so. Cover cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.
For the topping: Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Add blueberries, Sucanat, and salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in lemon juice and let cool to room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.
To unmold cheesecake, wrap hot dish towel around pan and let sit for 1 minute. Remove sides of pan. Slide thin metal spatula between crust and pan bottom to loosen, then slide cake onto serving platter. Let cheesecake sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Before serving, spoon topping over top of cheesecake. Serves 12.
Per serving: 357 calories; 28 g fat (16 g saturated fat; 71 percent calories from fat); 20 g carbohydrates; 16 g sugar; 146 mg cholesterol; 328 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 1 g fiber.
from “Naturally Sweet” from America’s Test Kitchen
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped coarse
7 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) Sucanat
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grated lime zest (2 limes)
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
15 ounces (3 cups) blueberries
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray eight 6-ounce ramekins with vegetable oil spray and place on rimmed baking sheet.
Process 1/2 cup walnuts, Sucanat, butter, and salt in food processor until finely ground, about 20 seconds. With processor running, add cream, eggs, vanilla, and lime zest and process until smooth, about 15 seconds. Add flour and baking powder and pulse until just combined, about 5 pulses.
Transfer batter to large bowl and gently fold in blueberries. Spoon batter evenly into prepared ramekins and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup walnuts.
Bake buckles until golden and beginning to pull away from sides of ramekins, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Let buckles cool on wire rack for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 8.
Per serving: 323 calories; 20 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 56 percent calories from fat); 31 g carbohydrates; 15 g sugar; 86 mg cholesterol; 205 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 3 g fiber.
Substitute shelled pistachios for walnuts, lemon zest for lime zest, and fresh raspberries for blueberries.
Per serving: 315 calories; 19 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 54 percent calories from fat); 30 g carbohydrates; 12 g sugar; 86 mg cholesterol; 272 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 5 g fiber.
from “Naturally Sweet” from America’s Test Kitchen
30 ounces (6 cups) blueberries
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and shredded
2 tablespoons instant tapioca, ground
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 recipe All-Butter Double-Crust Pie Dough (see below), bottom crust fitted into 9-inch pie plate and chilled and top crust rolled into 12-inch circle and chilled
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
Place 3 cups blueberries in medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring and mashing occasionally with potato masher, until half of blueberries are broken down and mixture measures 1 1/2 cups, about 12 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place shredded apple in center of dish towel. Gather ends together and twist tightly to drain as much liquid as possible. Transfer apple to large bowl and stir in cooked blueberry mixture, remaining 3 cups uncooked blueberries, tapioca, lemon zest, and salt until combined. Transfer blueberry mixture to chilled dough-lined pie plate and scatter butter over top.
Using 1 1/4-inch round cookie cutter, cut out single round in center of 12-inch dough circle. Cut out 6 more rounds from dough, 1 1/2 inches from edge of center hole and equally spaced around center hole. Loosely roll dough circle around rolling pin and gently unroll it onto filling.
Trim any overhanging dough to 1/2 inch beyond lip of plate, then pinch edges of top and bottom crusts firmly together. Tuck overhang under itself; folded edge should be flush with edge of plate. Crimp dough evenly around edge of plate using your fingers. Brush surface with beaten egg white.
Set pie on aluminum foil–lined baking sheet and bake until crust is light golden brown, about 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees, rotate sheet, and continue to bake until juices are bubbling and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Let pie cool on wire rack until juices have thickened, about 2 hours. Serve. Makes 8 servings.
Per serving: 439 calories; 25 g fat (15 g saturated fat; 51 percent calories from fat); 51 g carbohydrates; 13 g sugar; 63 mg cholesterol; 340 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 4 g fiber.
All-Butter Double-Crust Pie Dough
1/3 cup ice water, plus extra as needed
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and chilled
Whisk ice water and sour cream together in bowl. Process flour and salt in food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. Scatter chilled butter over top and pulse until butter is size of small lentils, about 10 pulses. Drizzle half of sour cream mixture over top and pulse until incorporated, about 3 pulses; repeat with remaining sour cream mixture.
Pinch dough with your fingers; if dough feels dry and does not hold together, add 1 to 2 tablespoons more ice water and pulse until dough forms large clumps and no dry flour remains, 3 to 5 pulses
Divide dough into 2 even pieces. Form each piece into 4-inch disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Before rolling dough out, let it sit on counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes. (Dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If frozen, let dough thaw completely on counter before rolling.)
Roll 1 piece dough into 12-inch circle on lightly floured counter. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin and gently unroll it onto 9-inch pie plate, letting excess dough hang over edge. Ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with your hand while pressing into plate bottom with your other hand. Wrap loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.
For a traditional top crust: Roll second piece of dough into 12-inch circle on lightly floured counter, transfer to parchment paper–lined baking sheet and cover with plastic; refrigerate for 30 minutes.
For a lattice top crust: Roll second piece of dough into 13 1/2 by 10 1/2-inch rectangle on generously floured counter, then transfer to parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Trim dough to 13-by-10-inch rectangle and slice lengthwise into ten 13-inch-long strips. Separate strips slightly, cover with plastic, and freeze until very firm, about 30 minutes. Makes enough for one double-crust 9-inch pie.
Savory Blueberry Pizza
From U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council
1 pound pizza dough
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese, divided
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
4 ounces diced pancetta (can also use bacon or ham if pancetta is not available), cooked and drained
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Lightly flour a work surface.
Pat and stretch dough into a 10-by-14-inch oval; place on a large baking sheet.
With a fork, pierce dough in several places.
Leaving a 1-inch border, sprinkle dough with half the mozzarella, the gorgonzola, pancetta and red onion.
Bake until crust is golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes.
Sprinkle blueberries and remaining mozzarella over pizza; bake until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown, about 2 minutes longer.
Remove from oven; top with basil and pepper. Makes 8 servings.
Per serving: 297 calories; 12 g fat (6 g saturated fat; 36 percent calories from fat); 31 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 34 mg cholesterol; 719 mg sodium; 15 g protein; 2 g fiber.