Friday, August 8, 2008

Blueberry Hill

High: 62° F
Low: 50° F
Conditions: Showers continuous throughout the day
It has been surprisingly wet and cold here in Maine this week. Last night, we started up the woodstove to chase away some of the damp. Even still, by early morning we needed an extra quilt and one very fuzzy caninaturalist to keep warm in bed. It’s a sign, I think, that our short-lived summer will soon be retreating.

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

Preheat over to 350° F. Spread the blueberries in a lightly-greased pie plate. In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Gently work in the butter with your fingers until it forms a coarse meal. Drop meal evenly over blueberries. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until oatmeal topping is golden brown. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream.


The Army of Four said...

That field is GORGEOUS! And mmm... blueberries! We love them, too, but Mom is stingy with them.
We can't believe it's that chilly in Maine already! Are cool temps really on their way?!!?
Tail wags,

Dawn Miles said...

The part about Grandma Betty made me smile a big smile. That blueberry crisp sounds delicious! I was just thinking about trading family recipes and how funny it is that it's happening via a BLOG! We appreciate your hard work of raking blueberries! Did you ever pick blueberries here in the Midwest? (Here - like I'm still there...) I'm sure raking is much more difficult - just wondering if you ever picked anywhere.

snoutbeagle said...

Hi Ari and Kathryn,

I just discovered your blog yesterday through Kess the beagle. I LOVE this blueberry post (recipe included ... I plan to give it a try). It brings vivid images of Maine back to me. My husband and I traveled briefly along the Maine coast (Portland up to Eastport, into Canada) last September and I fell deeply in love. Oh, to go back sometime soon.

We now plan to follow your adventures on a regular basis!

Take care,
Jackie, the dog mum of Diesel and Marvin

Khyra The Siberian Husky said...

The blueberries khomplement a certain khanine's eyes!

Thanks fur the recipe - Mom shared a blueberry bukhkle recipe with the SMS moms - so maybe she needs to try this one too!!

So, did Ari find her thrill on Blueberry Hill?

PeeEssWoo: I wooo'd have expekhted Ammy of the AO4 to seize THAT opp!

Marigold said...

Yum! Blueberries...the goatfather's favorite. Even I like blueberries...well, next to Peanuts they don't compare, but that is beside the point.

Me and my puppies said...

Kathryn ~ you’re my kind of girl! When my boys were young we went picking all the time; started in late May with the strawberries, July 4thish with blueberries, peaches and the world famous Jersey tomatoes. August it's the best of veggie season and September we move to apple and pumpkin picking. October, of course, is cranberries season here. We love to go pickin' and well, eatin’!

Steve, Kat, & Wilbur said...

Our mom is really not a blueberry fan, but I think they look delicious! Ari, do get get to eat more than your parents?


snoutbeagle said...

Hello again!

We'd be honored to be added to your blog roll ... Diesel and Marvin aroooo with joy at the thought of it!

The Daily Echo said...

I just LOVE blueberries! They're right up there with frozen peas on my favorite things in life. Mom eats blueberries too since they're supposed to be good for one's memory. She figures she's going to get a head start on saving her feeble mind from when I finally drive her into senility.

diane said...

Mmmmmmmmmm....blueberries! Best part of summer, I think.

I don't have access to your beautiful wild little blue wonders, but I do get my hands on as many as I can from Michigan! They are at many of the farmers markets now, or I go up to my uncle's place in MI and get them.

Have to try your recipe--if I can keep some blueberries aside! Hard to stop eating them warm from the market sun, cold, frozen or any which way...


boo's-bro said...

I like blueberries because they turn my poo purple. What about you Ari?

Tracey and Huffle said...

I wonder if I like blueberries?

Huffle Mawson, Honorary Husky and Explorer Cat

Lorenza said...

OMD! Pawesome field!
Blueberries! Another thing we don't have here!
we will keep the recipe in case someday we find blueberries!
Have a good night
Kisses and hugs

Mary said...

Those blueberries look delicious

Gus, Louie and Callie said...

Hey we didn't know you racked blue berries.. Of course mom and dad grew up in Wisconsin and never went blue berry picking although her mother told her there was some near Bruce where they have a cabin. She will have to check that out next time we are up there in the summer..
thanks for the recipe it looks so yummy..

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie

Princess, Tank and Isaac: The Newfs of Hazard said...

We have blubbery bushes in our yard - dad planted them. But he says your kind are even better.

Kapp pack said...

Yummy! We'll have to get mom to try that recipe! You get to do so many cool things in Maine!

Kisses, SKy boy

umekotyan said...

Hello Ari.
Red scenery of the blueberry is beautiful, and fantastic.
A color and I who that is wonderful and red are made happy.
Of course, while thinking of the time of the blueberry pie.
The evolution of the tool as the process is a crystal of human race's knowledge.

I had thought the nut was picked up to now.
This is Japan medlar in Awajishima and conceives it from the kiwi.
The weekend while recalling the time of a wonderful pie, the Olympics, Tom and Jerry. :)

from loved ume tyan

Blue said...

I'm rather partial to Blueberrys too & not because they're blue - LOL!
My Canadian cousin makes the best Blueberry muffins ever but your crips sounds yummy.

Best wishes, pats & pets

sugarcreekstuff said...

That photo is beautiful.
In Michigan we have to pick from bushes, slower than a rake but better on the back.
I love blueberry pancakes, the way I love them most is with homemade peach syrup (runny jam batch). The best combinations.

chasingsquirrelswithrusty said...

It looks as if I've missed a lot while I was gone! the blueberries and strawberries look yummy as does the jam! Mom is taking Grandma Betty's crisp recipe!

I sure hope you get some pictures of the kits that are expected on the mountain. How sweet!

The cats look as if they had a nice afternoon in the window! They look like a cat I used to have named Snicker.

I just love reading your blog, I have an award for you!

Arija said...

Haven't tasted afresh wild blueberry for over 10 yrs., am green with envy at the abundance you hsve within reach. In sweden they cook them up with sugar and a little corn start into a summer soup. Delicious with fresh white bread and butter.
Lovely blog.

Eve said...

Well Kathryn, I guess I'll have to get a few blueberry bushes now! My list gets longer! Thank you for the recipe too!

John Theberge said...

I love the look of the blueberry barrens in the fall when they're red like in your photo. When I had my dog he used to love grazing on the wild blueberries.

Nevis said...

The pictures were gorgeous...the outting sounds like a lot of fun and the crisp sounds delicious!

Jan's Funny Farm said...

Mmmmmmmmm. You have made us hungry. Now we have to go see what we can "rake" from hiding places. It will be a while until dinner.

Island Rambles Blog said...

What a great post...I love the pictures and even a recipe...I will try it as we love blueberries here...I am back catching up on your blog...cheers.

Maverick the Pirate said...

Harrrrrrr Ari
you made yer Cap'n Hungry Harrrrrr
Cap'n Maverick the Pirate

Kess And Her Mama said...

Mum & dad absolutely loved the summer fruits when they were in New York. We don't get them as easily in Malaysia (and if available, costs a lot!). They had lots of blueberries and cherries but didn't bring any back for me...Whine..whine...
BTW, mum replied to your comment on the Bike Exercise Tip. She enjoys this type of discussions :-)

Twinville said...

Wow! The colors of the Autumn Blueberry fields are amazing! I simply had no idea.

You are so luckt to live in state that has two of the most yummiest natural products so freely available: blueberries and maple syrup.

I will be trying out that special recipe soon. It sounds amazing!

Do you think it can be used with other fruit, if blueberries aren't available?

Christy said...

I love crisp! And I love wild blueberries, they are so much better than the big ones.