June 29, 2011

The Taste Bud: Kentucky — The blueberry state

I always appreciated blueberries in a passing way — as in, I didn’t mind them in muffins, liked them in Pop-Tarts, and would occasionally eat a handful of the little blue buggers if the opportunity presented itself.

But last summer, I was grocery shopping with a cheesy-looking little supermarket hand basket — I feel like Little Red Riding Hood when I carry one of those — and decided I would buy some berries as a healthy alternative to nacho cheese-flavored Doritos.

Things haven’t been the same since — I eat blueberries almost daily now. They have become part of my lifestyle, like shaving and fantasy sports. And I’m happy to announce, by way of www.pickyourown.org, that Kentucky blueberry season has begun and will be in full swing through July. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how excited that makes me.

You see, typically when I buy blueberries at the supermarket, I’m buying overpriced imports from places like Chile or Costa Rica. Or Des Moines. In winter, I find myself paying $5.99 a pint at Dirty Kroger for them — and that’s if the store has any in stock. There are times when I buy two pints, just to be safe, and it ends up being 20 percent of my grocery bill (the other 80 percent being Cheerios, beer and nacho cheese-flavored Doritos).

But I stopped off at the Bardstown Road Farmers Market recently and found several vendors with homegrown, hand-picked blueberries. They were de-goddamn-licious. And for some reason, I bought only one pint.

Before I continue on, though, I want to make sure all you readers understand why blueberries are so magical. It’s more than the unique flavor — if I was a blueberry marketing person, the slogan would be: “They just taste blue!” — it’s also the fact that they are magic fruit.

No, really. I once told a friend that I felt certain blueberries could give monkeys magical powers, in addition to curing cancer and designing modern architecture. We’re talking serious antioxidants here, and along with ample vitamin and mineral content. You’ve got healthy doses of vitamins A, C and K, plus potassium, calcium, magnesium, dietary fiber and folate, whatever that is.

Blueberries, according to www.simply-blueberries.com, will: help fight the signs of aging, provide energy, prevent disease, improve memory and brain function, prevent and fight cancer, improve vision, lower cholesterol, aid in weight loss, act as a sleep aid, prevent urinary tract infection, and fight osteoporosis.

But that’s not all — working as an antioxidant, blueberries provide a combo of the vitamins and minerals needed to fight free radicals in our bodies. The site even loosely refers to blueberries as “disease resistant super foods” — they’re like little blue superheroes that taste really good in cereal and don’t scream when you bite them.

An article in Prevention magazine even called the blueberry “the miracle berry.” It sort of made me wonder if blueberries could part a sea or turn water into wine.

But back to the farmers market. I had some berries still in my fridge that I had purchased from Kroger (I think this particular batch was grown in Costa Rica, or maybe French Canada), so I bought one pint of the local blueberries and decided to do a taste and texture comparison.

The flavor of blueberries can vary for many reasons, such as the different varieties that exist, location where they were grown and time of harvest. The Kroger blueberries were sweeter and, at least by the time they landed in my fridge, far less firm than the Kentucky blueberries.

For my taste buds, the Kentucky-grown berries were perfect — they were firm to the point that biting into one created a mild popping sensation, and the resulting flavor burst was tart, not sweet, and far more intense than the store-bought blueberries.

It should be noted that these particular store-bought berries were $2.49 per pint, and I paid $4 for the Kentucky-grown berries. But for me, paying the extra buck and a half to support local farmers and get a vastly superior berry is worth it.

Not only that, but it’s easily worth $4 to fight osteoporosis (seriously?) and for the off chance they might give me magical powers. Hey, it could happen.