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Wild Blueberry Shoulder Season: A Seamless Shift From Fresh to Frozen

“Shoulder season” is known to many in Maine and the Atlantic Provinces as the season to say goodbye to the last fresh local pint of wild blueberries. It refers to the time just after the height of the harvest and before the annual move into winter, and it marks a transition for growers and for the market as summer crops disappear and alternative sources take the place of local ones.

On the fields, the month of September ushers in a new phase of work. Barrens still bustle, but much less than they did during the demanding days of late August. Farmers use the month to clear weeds, clean farming equipment, and mow this season’s fruit-bearing plants – they will be next year’s unharvested ones, fitting with the two-year cycle of production that dictates only half of the fields are harvested each year while the other half regenerates.

In milder, coastal regions, September is still the season of fresh: wild blueberries can be found until mid-month in some areas. But for most of us, local sources for fresh summer produce are replaced with non-local alternatives when fall comes. The good news is if you live in Maine and parts of Canada and enjoy fresh local wild blueberries during the summer, you can still find the tasty locally sourced wild blues in your grocery store’s frozen aisle. Producers in the two nations work together with distributors to provide the indigenous frozen fruit throughout the winter months to those of us who live here and to consumers all over the country, ensuring that we always have plenty of uniquely delicious, powerfully nutritious berries for the entire year at our neighborhood market.

It’s sad to see them go – but it’s fortunate that we can still enjoy wild blueberries long after we have picked or purchased our last fresh pint. In fact, there are some important reasons why entering the season of frozen isn’t as bad as it might sound.

You Say Flash, I Say Quick, Let’s Call the Whole Thing IQF

Maybe you call it frozen-fresh. Maybe you say quick-frozen, flash-frozen or IQF. Either way, all terms refer to the individually quick freezing method that takes fruit or vegetables at their peak of ripeness on the bush or vine and freezes them, so they are preserved at their height of freshness, nutrition, and taste.

While frozen used to be considered a second choice to fresh foods, today we know that frozen, in addition to being convenient and available year round, provides consistent quality and nutritional value. In fact, according to the FDA, frozen is equally as nutritious as fresh.

Freezing at peak locks in freshness and nutrients until we are ready to eat them. It means that we can choose from a variety of foods that taste as good and are as good for us as they were the day they were harvested.

For Nutrition, Frozen is “Fail Safe” 

David B. Agus, a cancer doctor and researcher perhaps best known as the author of the New York Times bestseller The End of Illness, has been recognized for views that tend to push against traditional medical advice. He urges his patients to dispense with supplements, for instance, and rely on a strict daily schedule of sleeping and eating to reduce stress in our bodies that eventually leads to illness. He is also very vocal about the reliance on frozen, viewing it as one of the easiest ways to provide the nutrition we need to keep us living well and long.

Agus terms frozen “fail-safe” for consumers looking for a high concentration of nutrients. Frozen also allows us to choose from a variety of colors, which is the key to providing our bodies with the best nutrition and disease prevention, without relying on what has just come into the store or what is in season.

In The End of Illness, Agus also points out that frozen fruits and vegetables are immune to the degradation that occurs after food is picked, during transport, on the grocery store shelf, or in our own kitchen. With frozen, there’s no need to worry about using items quickly before they expire or “go bad” – they are always ready to eat, providing the same nutrition and taste whenever you use them.

Choosing the best foods we can is crucial to maintaining good health and fighting disease. To complicate matters, our choices must counteract the shortcomings of the processed, nutrient-poor food that for us as Americans is readily available. While most of us know that accomplishing that means a visit to the produce section, availability can be a challenge well after shoulder season has come and gone.

Local fresh fruits and vegetables just harvested in season are wonderful. We are lucky to enjoy their bounty at farm stands and farmer’s markets each year. But make no mistake: the frozen food aisle is a section of the supermarket that also bursts with life-lengthening, disease-preventing nutrition in a stunning array of perfectly preserved color stopped in time at its peak of perfection. Once we stop seeing frozen as a bastion of processed snacks and TV dinners and start seeing it for what it is, we’ll begin making food choices that will change and lengthen our lives – during the height of the summer and the depths of the winter.

So while it’s OK to lament the passing of the summer warmth and vacations, we can still celebrate shoulder season. For those of us who love wild blueberries and rely on them for our health, thanks to frozen, it’s simply a time of seamless transition.

How do I substitute frozen for fresh?…Should I thaw before using?…How do I prevent batter from turning blue? Get answers to these and other popular questions about cooking and baking with frozen wild blueberries at FAQ Blue.

Have fresh wild blues you’d like to freeze? For some, freezing fresh berries using a baking sheet and a zipper-bag is a shoulder season tradition!

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