Summer in Maine would not be complete without wild blueberries! Many of us grew up reading Robert McCloskey’s book Blueberries for Sal. We can still hear our mothers reading the words, “Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk.” That’s supposed to be the sound of Sal’s mother dropping plump, ripe blueberries into her metal pail. That’s right before they run into mama bear and baby bear! After picking enough berries, they head back to the house to can the sweet berries for the upcoming winter. I’m sure if you’re a fan of the book, eating wild Maine blueberries triggers these fond memories from the story!
Much of coastal Maine is covered with large shafts of blueberry land. Many people of a certain age in Maine have raked blueberries for a summer job. Whether it was supplementing the family income, for buying badly needed school clothes or getting just enough money to go to the fair, the blueberry industry has supported countless Maine families. Starting in late July, the blueberry season stretches through the month of August. Over 44,000 acres of blueberry land are farmed annually in Maine contributing millions of dollars to the local economy.
Although they are referred to as wild, if left unattended, these precious plants would probably be engulfed by small trees only to turn into a forest. Care must be taken to ensure a decent harvest. Burning or mowing the blueberry fields is a great way to keep unwanted weeds from growing in. Berries have a two year cycle. Pruned fields will not produce until the following year. Some farms have half of their land in production each year. In our area, spraying blueberries for blueberry maggots is still common but more farms have been going organic in recent years. Hand raking has also becoming rare. Blueberry raking used to be a great job for teens but a lot of growers have gone to mechanical raking for efficiency. Many a young person has stood by a blueberry winnowing machine for hours picking out unacceptable berries, leaves and stems.
Wild blueberries have long been a Maine food source but they were not picked commercially until the 1840’s. The low-bush variety (vaccinium augustifolium) grows well in Maine’s naturally acidic soil. They can survive harsh winter conditions and offer year round beauty. From their white blossoms in late spring to their flaming red foliage in fall, blueberry fields are a feast for the eyes as well. High-bush berries also grow throughout Maine and abroad but prefer marshy, wet areas. The fruit can be slightly bigger and the flavor is comparable.
Benefits From Blueberries
It’s no secret that blueberries are are excellent for your health. They often show up in the category of ‘super food’ and are rich in antioxidants. According to Wild Blueberries, wild berries have 2x the antioxidant power of ordinary cultivated berries. So, pour on the blueberries when you get the chance!
Uses for Blueberries
It probably goes without saying that there are endless uses for blueberries and they are only limited to the imagination. Blueberries can be sprinkled on pancakes, mixed into waffles or added to buttery muffins. Blueberry pies, crisps and rich coffee cakes are a huge hit around here. Dried blueberries can be put into granola or trail mix. Frozen blueberries give summer flavor to oatmeal, smoothies and yogurt during the winter. Blueberries can even be used in savory applications such as sauces and dressings. Personally, I think eating them on cereal or by the handful is my favorite. The flavor of wild blueberries far surpasses that of commercial berries in most Mainer’s opinions!
If you have wild blueberries in your area, try to get some while you can! You’ll see how sweet they really are. The berries are very easy to freeze. Just place them in freezer bags, seal and lay flat in your freezer. Some prefer to freeze them on cookie sheets in a single layer to prevent clumping. If you are like Sal’s mother from the story, you might feel like canning them or making a few batches of jam. Whichever way you use them, take advantage of the season while it lasts! Many farms are taking orders for 10 lbs. or more. Some will even ship to your door. It’s hard to find a place to pick these days because most of the blueberry land is for commercial use. If you haven’t experienced wild blueberries yet, get out and get some while they last.
All of the gardens here have been suffering from the lack of rain. At the same time, the beans are wanting to be picked every other day and the cherry tomatoes are beginning to get their color. I hope that you get to experience wild blueberries in your area. They really are a highlight of the summer season here. So if you will excuse me, I think I need to go make some pie now!