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It’s blueberry season in Illinois

What’s Cooking in Illinois: Packed with nutrients and plenty of good-for-you stuff, blueberries are ripe for picking, eating and baking. Here are two favorite recipes.

Charlyn Fargo Ware

July 10, 2024

5 Min Read
 A close-up of a bunch of blueberries on a bush
EASY PICKING: Highbush blueberries are the most common cultivated variety in the U.S., no doubt because you can stand up to pick the berries. Photos by Charlyn Fargo Ware

Being outside in the garden, digging in the dirt, watching things grow — or better yet, harvesting a crop — bring joy.

In central Illinois, while most of the corn and soybeans are in the ground and thriving, it’s an early harvest for blueberries. The local U-pick strawberry crop got rained out. The southern Illinois peach crop will be small because of an early freeze.

But blueberries — they’re ripe for the pickin’.

Jefferies Orchard, just north of Springfield, Ill., has 40-year-old blueberry bushes that are still in production. A thousand blueberry bushes cover 3.2 acres on this family farm that’s 100% U-pick, with picking days announced via their Facebook page.

The blueberry shrub is closely related to those that produce cranberries and huckleberries. The blueberry fruit starts out green in color, then deepens to purple or blue as it ripens. Highbush blueberries like those grown in Jefferies Orchard are the most common cultivated variety in the U.S., no doubt because you can stand up to pick the berries.

The central Illinois blueberry season is expected to go fast because of the heat, but it’s a “pretty good year,” according to the workers weighing buckets of blueberries on a recent Saturday morning. The orchard allows picking every three to four days and expects the season to last about a month.

Related:Branch out for new fruits — and Key lime pie

A mother with her two young boys picking blueberries

Among berries, blueberries are the most nutrient dense. Just 1 cup has:

  • 3.6 grams of fiber

  • 16% of the daily value for vitamin C

  • 24% of the daily value for vitamin K

  • 22% of the daily value for manganese

  • 84 calories

Blueberries are also a top antioxidant, which protect from free radicals — the unstable molecules that can damage cells and contribute to aging and diseases, such as cancer. Plus, they lower bad cholesterol, lower blood pressure and help prevent heart disease. Blueberries are best known for helping maintain brain function and improving memory. They appear to benefit aging neurons and aid brain function.

Blueberry muffins stacked on top of each other

Here are wonderful recipes for Blueberry Muffins and Blueberry Pancakes, both adapted from King Arthur.

Blueberry Muffins

2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup vegetable oil or 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup sour cream or yogurt, (full fat will yield the most tender muffins)
1½ cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
Coarse sparkling sugar for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with liners, and grease or spray liners. Measure flour by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off excess. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; then set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter or vegetable oil and sugar with a hand-held or stand mixer until light and fluffy. Start the mixer at low speed until the ingredients are incorporated; then gradually increase speed to medium-high. If using butter, the mixture should turn almost white in color; if using oil, the mixture should look frothy. Scrape down the bowl to make sure all the butter or oil is incorporated, and then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and sour cream or yogurt, and mix until incorporated. Add dry ingredients and mix on low just until batter is smooth. Batter will be thick, almost like cookie dough. Fold in berries by hand.

Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups, using a heaping ¼ cup for each. Sprinkle with white sugar, if desired. Bake for 18 to 24 minutes. Remove from oven and baking pan as soon as you can and transfer to a rack to finish cooling. (Leaving hot muffins in the pan creates steam that will toughen the muffins as they sit.) Makes 24 muffins.

Blueberry Pancakes

2 large eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Grease griddle or large frying pan and heat to 350 degrees F. When it’s hot enough, a drop of water will dance across the surface.

Beat the eggs, milk and vanilla until light and foamy, about three minutes at high speed with a mixer. Stir in the melted butter or oil. Add the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar, stirring just to combine. Set the batter aside to rest for a few minutes. If too thick, add more milk.

Drop the batter by ¼ cupful (use a muffin scoop) onto the prepared griddle or pan. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon berries on top of each pancake. Makes one dozen 5-inch pancakes.

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About the Author(s)

Charlyn Fargo Ware

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield, Ill. Email recipe ideas to her at [email protected].

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