July 26, 2010

The Blueberry Time of Year

Berry-picking is one of my favorite summer activities. Of course, I love to eat the berries, all kinds of the summer gems, and also preserve them in various ways so we can taste summer in the winter –like when we open a jar of strawberry jam or warm up some frozen blueberries to add to our breakfast cereal in December.

In addition to a prolific strawberry bed, some very tasty black raspberries, and some dying old and thorny wild blackberries, we also have a number of cultivated blueberry bushes in our backyard. Alan planted the first ones in 1981, the year we moved in. They were a pre-Mother’s Day gift while I was still childless but pregnant. So those bushes have both sentimental and aesthetic value – they plus others added over the years form a lovely hedge at the bottom of our garden fence.

Yet when I want lots of sweet blueberries, I drive out of town to Stone Hill Blueberry Farm,
a wonderful organic u-pick place about five miles from our house.

Here’s their own website description:
Organic is better! Come to Stone Hill Blueberry Farm and pick some delicious Blueberries on south sloping farm with 2000+ blueberry bushes! Early, mid-season, and late varieties of blueberries available. The bushes are fertilized with soybean meal, mulched with sawdust and rows are mowed weekly. The Picking season runs from mid-July to at least the end of August, and sometimes into early September each year.

We park our car and walk to the carport attached to a trailer (at certain times of day you can hear from inside it, the small dog barking and the TV in the background) and pick up some plastic buckets. The smaller ones have a rope through the handle to be worn around your neck to leave both hands free for picking. Ambitious pickers like us also take a larger 8 quart bucket to pour our berries into as they get heavier around our necks. In the photo, Alan is carrying the two 8 quart buckets we filled in less than two hours.

Depending on the week, which varieties are ripe, and the capriciousness of nature – the amount of rain and sun the bushes have gotten -- some seasons, some days, the berries are small or plump, sweet or tart. Sometimes the picking is so easy – using two hands to milk whole clusters of berries into my basket – and other times really having to reach in and choose the one or two berries in the bunch that are ripe. And berries can fool you – the top might look lushly blue but once you’ve pulled them from the bush their undersides may still be reddish.

And although I try to stay in the moment, and just enjoy the beauty of the fields, the tartly-sweet pop of a berry on my tongue, and the rhythm of the picking, the reverie begins... I experience a torrent of thoughts and ideas, memories, and reactions. On some excursions I am quiet and reflective, grateful for the abundance and the serenity, for the opportunities of the natural world that I didn’t experience growing up. Other days I feel rushed, already planning the dinner that will accompany the blueberry pie I’ll be making later that day, and internally complaining about the people talking on their cellphones as they pick. I feel territorial when another picker gets too close to me in the row I am harvesting.

Berry picking is such a simple reminder that what is important is how I do whatever it is I am doing. When I return home, when I cook and eat and share those berries, I will vaguely recall the mood I brought to the fruit picking. The berries are flavored by my perspective. 

Blueberry recipes anyone? I'll post the recipe for the best fresh blueberry pie ever; it always gets rave reviews and is so easy to make. Do you have any favorites?


  1. What yummy reading! I make the same fresh blueberry pie. Here's a tip for a 2 crust baked blueberry pie - add a grated Granny Smith apple to the blueberry mixture - it adds pectin as a thickener and you don't even notice it in the baked pie.

  2. Sounds good -- can you post (or email me) the full recipe?
    I have lots of blueberries and would love to try different variations on the theme!