By Kimberly A. Morales

Nothing says “summer” quite like the arrival of sweet, juicy blueberries. Perfect for canning, preserving, baking or even just for snacking, blueberries are the perfect summer fruit. Little baskets of these indigo-hued berries are popping up in stores everywhere, with some of the most luscious – and affordable – found in many Sacramento area farmers markets. Here are just a few of the reasons why berries that are fresh from the market are a wise choice.

Photo Credit: Kimberly A. Morales

Sweet Deals

Since they’re picked the night before or that very morning, only the freshest berries make their way to our local farmers markets. By eliminating the middle men of storage & long haul transportation, the cost of harvesting & processing the fruit is lowered. This translates into lower prices for farmers’ market patrons.

A recent trip to the big Sunday market under the freeway at 8th & X Streets overwhelmed us with the sweet perfume of blueberries. Even more overwhelming were the outstanding prices that we found. At least six stands were selling blueberries locally sourced from farms as close as Elverta, with prices ranging anywhere from $2.50 to $3.75 per basket. That’s quite a difference from the $5 to $7 that you’ll pay at a regular grocery store.

And let’s not forget the quality! Blueberry lovers know that it can be a bit of a gamble to go through all those plastic containers of blueberries sold at bigger stores, trying to find some that aren’t sour or flavorless. Because they’re allowed to ripen naturally instead of being harvested early, the berries you’ll find at the farmers market have a chance to let their flavor fully develop, resulting in the sweet, juicy berries we all crave.

The best quality berries for the lowest prices: A sweet treat, indeed!

Delicious & Versatile

Once you get your berries home, it’s a good idea to freeze the ones you won’t be using immediately. To do this, simply rinse & pick over the blueberries, discarding any stems or leaves that may be attached. Pat the berries dry with paper towels, then place them on a foil-lined cookie sheet in a single layer. Freeze for about 20 minutes, then place into zippered plastic bags for later use. This is the easiest way to preserve blueberries so that they can be used later in different recipes.

The possibilities for how to enjoy your blueberries are endless. Snacking on them straight is always a fun treat, making for a nutritious, kid-friendly treat. For those who like to do more in the kitchen, blueberries can be a neverending source of culinary inspiration. From pies to muffins, ice cream to preserves, you can make just about anything with these deep blue fruits. They’re fabulous in salads, make incredible soufflés, and can be turned into sweet, unconventional sauces that can be served over grilled meats. Even mixologists are hopping on the blueberry bandwagon and whipping up spirited concoctions like Blueberry Martinis or Blueberry Mojitos.

For something less complicated and much more family-friendly, try serving this simple, yet elegant dessert at your next potluck or dinner. With just a few ingredients and practically zero effort, this sweet, creamy treat will have your guests thinking you slaved all day in the kitchen. No foolin’.

Photo Credit: Kimberly A. Morales

Blueberry Fool Recipe (makes 4 servings)

4 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed & picked over
½ cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
Dash of vanilla extract
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Fresh mint for garnish (optional)

In a large sauce pan, combine the berries, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Cook over medium low heat for about 6-7 minutes, until the berries have released their juices and made a sauce. Carefully pour the stewed berries into a blender or food processor, and puree until smooth. Chill the berry puree in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

In a large bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Reserve a few tablespoons for garnish. Gently fold the blueberry puree into the rest of the whipped cream until almost all the streaks are gone. Spoon generous amounts into 4 serving dishes. Garnish with reserved whipped cream, berries and mint. Chill for 30 minutes or serve immediately. Enjoy!

Downtown Sacramento Farmers Market

Corner of 8th & W Streets
Sacramento, CA 95816 (Under the freeway)
Hours: Sundays year round from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Kimberly A. Morales is the author & recipe developer of Poor Girl Eats Well and a freelance food writer. Originally from San Jose, she now lives in Midtown Sacramento and has become the area’s unofficial guru for eating well on a shoestring budget.