8-2-13-Image---Hand-holding-huge-blueberryBy Eva Potter

There’s nothing like spending a summer afternoon walking down rows and rows of neatly pruned bushes picking those sweet purple berries hanging in dense clusters.

From July into early September is blueberry season in this area and there are plenty of local places to pick these little jewels. There’s nothing like the experience of picking your own. An added benefit — you can sample along the way!

For those who scoff at these little gems, here are some facts that just may change your mind. Blueberries are among the fruits with the highest antioxidant activity. Researchers have shown that antioxidants help fight against aging, some cancers and heart disease. They also contain a variety of micronutrients including vitamin C and K, and minerals like manganese. Blueberries are cholesterol and fat free — so they make the perfect, guilt-free snack food. One cup only contains about 84 calories.

According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, “There are only three fruits native to North America: blueberries, cranberries and Concord grapes.” Botanists estimate they have been around for more than 13,000 years! If they can survive that long, they just might contribute a little something to our longevity.

There are dozens of blueberry varieties, many of them grown locally, each possessing a unique flavor. Blueberries don’t ripen after harvesting, so be sure to choose sweet berries that are uniform in color (no red or green showing). The grayish-looking “dust” you see on the berries is a harmless natural protectant, but it is a good idea to ask growers if they use pesticides.

Freshly picked blueberries will last up to two weeks in the refrigerator covered and stored in rigid containers to prevent crushing. Then get creative by canning, freezing or drying them so you can enjoy their goodness year round. Water accelerates deterioration, so if you must wash them, be sure to dry them before storing.

So what are you waiting for? Go alone or make it a family event — it’s a great way to spend time with the kids. And bring your own storage containers for transport home as most farms don’t provide them. Just be sure you go before the first frost when the season is officially over.

Local U-Pick Blueberry Locations

Blueberry Hill Farm and Greenhouse, 10016 Allegany Rd., South Dayton, NY, (716) 532-2920

Blueberry Meadows, 1414 Rowe Ave., Westons Mills, NY, (716) 373-2865

Burdick Blueberries, 8267 Thompson Rd., Cattaraugus, NY, (716) 257-9760 or 1-800-642-4245

Camp’s Blueberries, 67 Larkin St., Randolph, (716) 358-6422

Childs Blueberries, 3207 Cooper Hill Rd., Hinsdale, NY, (716) 557- 2334

Great Valley Berry Patch, 5609 Humphrey Rd., Great Valley, NY, (716) 945-5221

Pepper’s Blueberries, 3370 Bear Creek Rd., Franklinville, (716) 307-0903

Crisafulli Blueberries, Maple Ave., Allegany, NY