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Blueberries

SUBMITTED PHOTO Blueberries contribute delicious and healthy fruit to chicken salad.

Blue is among today's trendy colors, a hue from the American landscape, the Paint Quality Institute asserts. Clothing store windows hail "happy" blues. In stories I write for St. Louis' Best Bridal, it translates into gowns, vests, shoes and accessories from that segment of the wedding rainbow.

Blue is red-hot in food, too. Like blues in living spaces, blueberries soothe the spirit and nourish the body.

A few weeks ago my daughter-in-law and I stopped at the Logan Square Farmers Market in their Chicago neighborhood minutes before the weekly indoor event closed. Missie had a mission to bring home frozen blueberries from Roedger Bros. Farms. Janet Viverito, Mike and Rich Roedger's sister, handed us plump, juicy, flavorful samples.

By phone later, Janet listed attributes that make them a 'super food." Loaded with antioxidants, they fight cancer development, aid memory and assist digestion. Their dark blue helps fill the colorful food spectrum in a well-rounded, healthy eating plan.

Their generous size comes from the first picking.

"Usually there are four or five picks, but the first one is by far bigger and sweeter than the others." A mechanical picker that "looks like a pontoon boat," she said, hovers over bushes, to shake and drop berries onto a conveyor belt for cooling, cleaning and flash-freezing the day they are picked, conserving their nutrition. Those first-pick berries are frozen under their own name, the remaining harvest sold for other uses.

Mike was working in real estate when he met a Michigan blueberry farmer who was losing his eyesight. As their friendship increased, the farmer introduced him to other growers. Mike and his brother, Rich, joined their ranks in early 2009. Blueberries are their only crop on farms in Covert and South Haven, part of Michigan's "fruit belt" with sandy soil and lake-effect moisture.

Janet follows the trail of markets that want Roedger frozen berries. She uses them as a healthy, delicious fruit and juice without added sugar.

"We're helping people in a healthy way. Blueberries are great for babies and all ages," she said. Their fundraisers include Blueberries for Babies for the March of Dimes.

She often uses them straight from the freezer with only a few minutes of thawing time. Her three teenage children eat them by the bowl. "They go right into muffins, pancakes — my kids' favorite, waffles, I even bake pies with them frozen," she said.

Cooking them frozen, or stirring them into batter as the last ingredient, avoids streaking their pretty blue color — or turning them red when an acid like vinegar or lemon juice splashes, or greenish-blue with baking soda.

She was ready to try a new pie, adding grated apple and cinnamon to the blueberries in a walnut crust.

"I put them right in yogurt, cereal, oatmeal. If you let them sit out 10 minutes, they get nice and creamy," Janet advised. She noted that the small frozen "wild" blueberry, another common variety in the freezer, comes from Canada and the East Coast.


Fresh Blueberry Chicken Salad with Almonds

2 whole chicken breasts, cooked, diced

1/2 cup red onion, chopped

1 tbsp. rice vinegar

1/2 cup minced green onion

1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 cup blueberries (for frozen, see Note)

1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise

2 tbsp. plain yogurt

1/4 cup sweet mustard

1/4 cup toasted almonds

Place chicken in bowl. In second bowl, sprinkle red onion with vinegar and toss. Add green onion, parsley, cranberries and fresh blueberries. Fold gently to mix.

In small bowl, blend mayonnaise, yogurt and mustard well. Fold into chicken mixture.

Garnish with toasted almonds.

Makes 6 servings; 322 calories, 13 g (3 g saturated) fat, 66 mg cholesterol, 255 mg sodium, 22 g protein and 3 g dietary fiber each. Double recipe for 8 to 12 servings.

Note: Gently fold in frozen blueberries just before serving.