Fresh Maine Blueberries: A Summer Tradition
What is surprisingly small, startlingly tasty and only around once a year? It’s lowbush blueberries (known widely as “wild ”), available in Maine and Nova Scotia exclusively during the special weeks of harvest season. If you live in the region, you’re lucky – you can enjoy one of nature’s most sensational gifts fresh from the field. They bring joy to our taste buds and to our bodies in equal measure, thanks to unsurpassed antioxidant power. It’s nearly time to engage in the tradition of picking, buying, cooking, and eating wild blueberries during the few weeks a year they burst in a sea of blue from the fields.
Wild By Nature
What’s so special about wild? You can easily get the scoop on wild blues from anyone in Northern Maine. Blueberries grown there are not planted from seed or transplanted – they are wild, created by bees transferring pollen. One acre of plants typically contains over one hundred varieties, each genetically distinct, providing that characteristic diversity of flavor. While cultivated berries – larger berries not sold under the moniker of “wild” – have just over 100 varieties, there are an estimated 6.5 million wild blueberry “clones” or varieties of wild blueberry plants. They flower into a superior sweetness that delivers superb disease fighting compounds: the deep violet skin that provides protection as they bask in the harsh summer sun is transferred to our own bodies to fight disease and aging when we eat them. There are more fresh wild blueberries in a cup, pint, or serving than cultivated, too, because of their size (approximately 150 vs. just 90 according to Virginia Wright, author of The Blueberry Book), meaning more antioxidant power is delivered via the higher ratio of deep blue skin.
Today, farmers with acres of wild blueberry fields are preparing for the harvest, which occurs around the last week in July and lasts through mid-September. Right now, crews are beginning to arrive to process the berries from the fields – over 200 million pounds will be harvested in the growing areas during this time. While the majority of the harvest is frozen, a chosen few remain fresh and appear in local markets and on roadside farm stands. Fairs and festivals will commence, celebrating the season with berry-focused events, and menus around New England will feature wild blueberry-themed dishes. It’s a special time, and it takes place only in a special place, and that time is here.
“Fresh!” A Special Request
Even with IQF freezing that preserves all the nutrition and taste of fresh for our enjoyment year-round, eating fresh blueberries from cardboard containers has a special allure for local residents. It truly connects us to our foods origins, reminding us that wild blueberries are a special treat indigenous to our area and facilitated by local farmers who have worked their fields for generations. Eating fresh blues also allows us the opportunity to better savor each berry, assessing their individual tastes – one sweet, one tangy, one jammy, one tart – and the mixture of under- and overripe berries that mix to create an unduplicated complexity of flavor that can only be found in nature in late summer.
Fresh wild blueberries also provide a tradition of picking (or just picking up from your local market or roadside stand) and reveling in brimming pints stacked and ready for snacking and cooking. For many families in Maine, it’s a rite of passage – a tradition that is passed down through generations that comes to define summer in a region that holds the season itself and its bounty dear.
July is National Blueberry Month (Naturally!)
Even for those who don’t live in the region, it’s time to eat blueberries. Here, we eat them fresh at every meal, in every dish. Head to local fields to pick your own and start a summer tradition if you don’t have one. You can find pick-your-own wild blueberry fields in Nova Scotia or search for them in Maine by region. Then, bring your plenty home and get creative. You can do anything from grilling them to having them the more conventional way – by the forkful in a heavenly blueberry pie or blueberry turnover (like these from Plating Up). Sprinkle and scoop them onto anything and everything: cereal, yogurt, salsa, sandwiches, entrees and ice cream. It’s no time to be conservative. Indulge in this wonderful gift of nature while you can.
When you’re done picking, local restaurants will offer you respite. Menus are bursting with blue in the summer to pay homage to the season. Chefs feature freshly harvested blues in an array of seasonal dishes ranging from crisps and brûlée to decadent entrées where blueberries complement the flavors of the main course. Just browse the menu of your favorite local bistro, café, eatery, or bakery, or take a look at what some Maine chefs do with wild blueberries by viewing the video Wild Blueberries – A Culinary Star.
Capture the Wonders of Blue This Season
Want to capture those glowing, picturesque fresh wild berries during this fleeting season? There are plenty of mouth-watering ways. Share your fresh sightings and gastronomic wonders far and wide this year. Snap a photo and share it with your friends, on your favorite social network, send it to us, or pin it on your Pinterest page (or follow us on Pinterest to join the fun).
Here are some places you can find and capture the fresh wild blue essence before they are gone:
Growing wild in the field…
at local stores and markets….
in chef’s creations…
or, in unusual situations.
Enjoy the special fruits of the coming season!