Washing and freezing brews blueberry brouhaha

Just about every expert agrees that blueberries have more antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable.

And they’re delicious.

But in the past few years, I’ve noticed somewhat of a blueberry controversy brewing. By all means freeze fresh, local blueberries when they’re at their peak for use all year. But how to freeze them? The methods are hotly debated around the questions “to wash?” or “not to wash?”

The story in this week’s A la Carte section warned against washing, a piece of advice offered by the Fresno Bee. Although I usually advocate the opposite, I ran the Bee’s tip in the spirit of unbiased reporting. The argument against washing is usually summed up in a single sentence: It makes the berries clump together in an icy blob.

“Well, duh.” I can almost hear the sentiment in kitchens across the Northwest’s blueberry country. That’s why you have to individually quick-freeze berries after washing — or IQF — as it’s known in the food industry.

I don’t wash my frozen peas. So why would I wash my frozen berries? The Detroit Free Press agrees and printed the following method in a recent story.

After rinsing blueberries, spread them out on a sided baking sheet lined with several layers of paper towel, pat dry and freeze on trays until just frozen, then transfer to freezer bags.

Skipping the paper-towel move, I just spread washed berries onto a baking sheet and freeze for an hour or so. Leaving a little water on the berries creates an ice glaze similar to the kind on commercially frozen meats. To my thinking, that protects the food from oxidation that happens upon exposure to air. I’ve never heard anyone opine otherwise, and my blueberries keep all year in the freezer.

Of course, I wouldn’t recommend this with more delicate berries, namely raspberries, blackberries and other cane specimens. A bit more sturdy, blueberries will keep, unwashed, loosely covered in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

But I would recommend using the full complement of summer berries (plus one stone fruit) in the following cobbler. All the fruit should be available at Thursday’s Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market in Medford. If cherries are in short supply after this spring’s late frosts, simply increase the quantities of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries to 1 2⁄3 cups each.

Cherry-Berry Cobbler

2 cups sweet cherries, rinsed

1 cup blackberries

1 cup blueberries

1 cup raspberries

3 tablespoons cornstarch

6 tablespoons sugar, divided

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1⁄2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon reduced-fat milk, divided

Vanilla ice cream for serving, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Pit the cherries in a large bowl. Lightly rinse all the berries. Add them to pitted cherries. Sprinkle fruit with the cornstarch, 4 tablespoons of the sugar and the lemon zest.

Pour mixture into a 9-by-12-inch, oval baking dish.

Mix the flour with 1 tablespoon sugar, the baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the 1⁄2 cup milk to make a very soft dough.

Drop dough by spoonfuls on top of berry mixture. Dampen your hands with some remaining milk, and spread out dough to almost cover fruit. Brush top of dough with remaining milk. Sprinkle surface with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake cobbler in preheated oven for about 35 minutes or until it is golden brown and berries are bubbling. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Makes 8 (1⁄2-cup) servings.

— Recipe adapted by Detroit Free Press from www.bonappetit.com.

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