I head outside to pick berries in the early morning light, or after dinner when the sun goes down and the air begins to cool. It has been hard for me to keep active with the summer heat, but as I stretch and twist around the knarled branches that have shared this yard with me for so many years, I laugh. Yes, Blueberry yoga, that’s what I’ve been doing. Bending, stretching, reaching, stepping, pulling the flexible limbs down to where I can pluck ripened fruit from the branches and drop them into the bowl waiting to be filled. Mindfully studying the fruit, searching for the deeply purple berries and allowing the nearly ripe to remain in the sunshine to sweeten some more.
It’s been a banner year for blueberries–no late cold snaps to ruin the tender flowers in spring, lots of spring rain, and loads of hot weather and sunshine this summer. Best of all, the gypsy moths took a vacation (at least they have not chewed every leaf this year, a reprieve, for sure).
The lack of summer rain has required extra water. I get out early or late in the day to shower the ground around the bushes with water, feeding the berries with life-giving moisture.
Blueberries love this hot weather. Me, not so much. I left Florida years ago for cooler New England for many reasons, not the least of which is that before long summer will be past and I can feel more like a person again!
I have always said that picking berries redeems the summer for me. I encountered few berries growing up in suburban South Florida, but discovered the joys of picking wild blackberries one summer spent at a church summer camp outside Atlanta. We had as many blackberries as we could eat right along the paths of the camp. Heaven, for sure!
Soon after arriving in New England for college, I discovered wild blueberries in woodland areas. It has been a summer priority for me and my family ever since. When my children were small, I took them with me on walks and they soon figured out it was fun to hunt for berries. My son could spot blueberry bushes along roadsides when we drove places, and he was sure to point out to me where we should hunt for berries in the coming year.
When we moved to Bellingham one of my first priorities was to order blueberry plants, and we installed twelve bushes at the back of the house. These bushes had several strikes against them from the very beginning. Large oaks shaded much of the area, reducing available sunshine. The bushes that grew steadfastly refused to set fruit. My growing children had limited space in which to ride their bikes. Of the original twelve bushes, only three survive today. The others were, for the most part, run over by energetic growing children.
These days, the children have grown, and provided me with wonderful grandchildren. The yard is quieter. We removed a number of the trees that were too close to the house, and miracle of miracles, suddenly the blueberry bushes that remained barren for so many years blossomed and began to bear fruit!
Since this time, we have had hordes of gypsy moths that stripped the plants bare one year, and weakened them for another. We have had dry springs in which few flowers managed to set fruit. This year, however, everything has seemed to come together. In the midst of a global pandemic, even with such gloom and concern, my blueberry bushes have outdone themselves bearing fruit.
And so I wander out several times a day, communing with my berry bushes. The few raspberry canes in the yard bore more fruit than usual as well, and the blackberry canes were covered with fruit, until a local catbird developed a taste for blackberries. He left us some, but not the harvest we have usually gotten from these thorn-studded canes.
We protected from bird predation the largest blueberry bushes, draping the bushes in netting that is supported by strong wooden frames which should last a number of years. The smaller bushes I planted in more recent years did not fit under the protective frame, but I figured it was the least we could do to give the birds a share of the harvest.
Having bushes of different varieties allows the harvest to continue, with berries for breakfast many mornings, fruit for pies, muffins, scones, fruit crisps, and pies. We have indulged again and again in my favorite fresh berry pie, that we only make when the berry harvest is plentiful. This summer, I have made a huge dent in what some have called our family pie-deficit.
I will close with a repeat of my favorite berry pie recipe, passed on to me years ago from a You Pick strawberry farm in Medway, MA, sadly no longer a farm, but still open space in that town. Here’s the recipe. Happy trails, and good luck in your quest to find berries along the way!
Fresh Berry Pie
For 9” pie: Bake single shell pie crust, let cool. (I use Joy of cooking basic recipe, which seems to work fine. But store bought crusts, frozen, seem to have improved greatly.)
4-5 cups berries (I’ve used just strawberries, just blueberries, and combination blue, black, raspberries and strawberries—they’re all wonderful)
2 tbs. lemon juice
1 Cup sugar (I tend to reduce to ¾ cup sugar)
2 tbsp cornstarch
Crush 2-3 cups of berries, stir in lemon juice and cornstarch and sugar. Cook over medium heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Cool slightly. Spread remaining fresh washed berries, uncrushed, in baked pie shell, then pour berry “pudding” over fresh berries. Chill, serve with whipped cream or ice cream, or simply eat it plain.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then.