High: 62° F
Low: 50° F
Conditions: Showers continuous throughout the day
Before it does, however, the entire state of Maine is pausing long enough to enjoy one big blue rapture. It’s blueberry season: a week or so rivaled only by end-of-the-year holidays in terms of expanse and just plain jubilation. Wild blueberries (vaccinium pallidum) are the iconic symbol of Maine, and not without good reason. The scrappy little plants adore our hardscrabble landscape: from the exposed boulders and heart-dropping winter cold, to the long summer sunlight and thick ocean fog, this place was custom built for blueberry production. In fact, the state produces an average of 75 million pounds of blueberries each year.
Maine blueberries can be an acquired taste, though—especially if you have to harvest them yourself. Much smaller and more intense than those you find in a grocery store, these berries are almost feral. They don’t like to be cultivated or transplanted, and they’d sooner die than let you prune them. That means you don’t pick blueberries here in Maine; you rake them. On your hands and knees. For a very long time.
This is a handheld blueberry rake, which is used to comb the small bushes. Mostly, just the berries come off from the effort. Sometimes a few leaves, twigs, and multi-legged critters do, too. So most farms use winnowers like this one:
The machine gently rocks the berries while sending air from a powerful fan over them. The heavier berries tumble into a waiting box or basket while the lighter leaves (and hopefully most of the critters) flutter out.
Each year, we rake about 40 pounds of blueberries for our household. It's a fantastic outing for two humans and a canine naturalist. We drive to an old farm over on the coast, where we have great views of the Gulf of Maine and Bluehill. Afterwards, we stop for breakfast before working our way home to a day of blueberry processing. Some will be canned as preserves, but most will be frozen for the coming year.
The two cats don’t care all that much about these repeated trips down to our chest freezer, but the rest of us do.
Nothing gets the caninaturalist running downstairs like the tiny clink of a frozen blueberry hitting her bowl. Nothing, that is, except for the smell of Greg making blueberry pancakes. After all, what could be better than just frozen blueberries except for blueberries mixed with egg. And milk. And butter. And maple syrup. Greg and Ari agree: that combination is just about perfect.
As for me, I’m something of a traditionalist. I like to wait until fall, when the blueberry barrens light up the landscape with their red hue. Then, on frosty nights when we really, really need our woodstove, I pull out an old notecard printed in my grandmother’s cramped hand. It’s for her favorite blueberry crisp recipe. She never got to visit Maine, and I don’t know that she ever tried a wild Maine blueberry either, but the recipe is perfect nevertheless. Even Ari agrees—especially when she gets to lick the bowl.
Betty’s Blueberry Crisp
2-3 cups blueberries
½ cup butter
1 cup old fashioned oats
½ cup flour
¾ cup brown sugar
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of salt