July and August means wild blueberries – what my mother would call huckleberries- and here in the Adirondacks where our soil is sandy and acidic, blueberries love it. We have these wild bushes all over our property. I took an hour yesterday to go gather a quart.
Only a quart in an hour, you say? Let me explain.
Some years we have next to no berries, but for whatever reason this year, with the extra rain and not too hot temps, the bushes are loaded. These are not your cultivated high bush blueberries, where a quart can be picked in a few minutes. The wild bushes are low to the ground, usually no more than a foot tall. And the berries are small; even in a good year like now, the largest will be smaller than the eraser on a pencil.
It takes a bit of commitment to pick a quart. Constantly bending over, and moving from bush to bush is tiring on the back. Fingers get tired of pulling tiny blue gems off the bush, carefully to not smash them.
We do not live off grid, or solely off the land, but I am not about to overlook this wonderful gift that mother nature is offering up. These small berries are quite sweet. There are so many berries this year that I got that quart just from the backyard, The bears, turkeys and birds have barely touched them, probably because there are just so many bushes around our pine forest. I haven’t even ventured farther away from the house and barn yet.
With their small size, collecting them takes some time, patience, and a bit of skill. I find it’s easiest to roll them off the branches and into my palm, collecting a few at a time, then plop them into my bowl. One berry at a time is just really too slow! The other option is to hold the bowl under the bush and roll the berries right off into it. A word of caution, from experience.: If you set the bowl on the ground make sure it is flat and stable, otherwise if it tips over you have probably just lost half of those precious, hard picked berries!
While I may never pick enough of these blue gems for a pie, a quart of two will make batches of blueberry pancakes and blueberry muffins.
Like large blueberries they are easy to freeze. The hardest part is cleaning them up after picking. Invariably, I have a few bits of pine needles, blueberry bush leaves and even tiny spiders in my collection bowl. I put them all in a dishpan and swirl around to clean and make the leaves and pine needles float. Once I get the batch pretty clean, I drain into a colander and rinse again, shaking to look for any more debris.
I line a sheet pan with a piece of foil, wax paper or parchment paper. After the berries have drained well, so no extra water that might freeze is on them, spread the berries out in a single layer and put in the freezer for an hour or so. They will freeze individually, and can then be poured into a container of your choice.
When it’s time to bake, just scoop out the cup that you need and pop back in the freezer until next time.
Regardless of what you call them – huckleberries or blueberries – I love the peace and quiet (the experience) of gathering what nature has to offer, free of charge. Next month, wild blackberries should be ripening. I can hardly wait.
What berries does nature offer up in your area?