Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Monday, August 29, 2011

AH, BLUEBERRIES…

We would be remise if we did not have a post on blueberries while in Maine, especially since this state is the largest producer of wild blueberries in the world. This is also an appropriate time for this post because August in Maine is the principle time to harvest wild blueberries. Maine has over 60,000 acres of wild blueberries that grow naturally in barrens and fields. We experienced the culinary delight of wild
 blueberries on many of our hiking and biking trips. A blueberry field with ripe blueberries is hard to pass up. Finding blueberry patches is not hard – just look for the flood of people rummaging around in low  bushes on the side of the road. We usually hang around a blueberry patch until our fingers are tired of picking and our teeth are stained an unappealing shade of bluish-purple.

The wild (lowbush) blueberries are smaller than their cultivated (highbush) cousins and will delight your palate with a sweet and slightly tangy flavor. Oh sure, they are known to have health qualities because of their antioxidant powers that protect against heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, but that is not the sole reason for eating them. Besides most of the time, they are eaten in pies, syrup-draped pancakes, buttered muffins, sweet cobbler, and French toast stuffed with cream cheese. All of which are perfect to counteract the health qualities of the antioxidants and lead to other diseases that we won’t talk about.

Blueberries are grown on a two-year cycle with half of the fields being harvested one year and the other half harvested the next year. After the fall harvest, the plants are pruned to the ground by mowing or burning. The traditional method of harvesting blueberries by hand with a rake is still a common practice, especially on smaller farms. Fields that are raked by hand are sectioned off with white string in order to help mark their fields for pickers. Today, larger farms have decreased harvest time by utilizing mechanical harvesters. Once blueberries are picked they are sorted so that debris and unripe berries can be discarded.

Blueberry hand rake and recently harvested blueberries.  Later, the leaves and woody
stems will be sorted and removed.
Blueberry fields in the Fall turn a stunning brillant orange-red color.
We recently took a leisurely walk up Beech Hill to get a breathtaking hill-top view of Camden Harbor and the surrounding islands in Penobscot Bay. I know what you are thinking - walking up a “hill” does not usually have the connotation associated with a “leisurely” activity but this trip was leisurely due to the setting. The trail sits in the middle of 300 acres of land that have been set aside as a nature preserve which is managed for grassland birds, organic blueberry farming, and its scenic and historical values. Blueberries are harvested and sold to financially support the Coast Mountain Land Trust, the non-profit organization that manages this preserve and many others in the area. The fields make a beautiful backdrop for the trail and offer a splendid symbiotic relationship between financially supporting the preserve and fulfilling its mission of wildlife and historical preservation.

The Beech Hill trail winds through the blueberry fields up to a sod roofed, stone house.
Stay tuned in the next few days for some blueberry recipes. I like to buy them fresh at the School House farm stand, eat as many as I can, and freeze the rest. Don’t worry, freezing does not diminish the nutritional value – it is the whipped cream and vanilla ice cream that you pile on the pie that does that.

Until then, please enjoy some more blueberry-related photos.

Blueberry Winnowing Machine displayed at the Union Maine Fair and Blueberry Festival.
The blueberries were dropped down into the winnowing machine and onto a conveyor
belt.  As they went down the conveyor, wind driven by the fan blew off the leaves and green berries.
The blueberry festival had many products for sale.....jam, taffy, jellies, napkins
with blueberries, and fresh blueberries.
The festival proudly displayed the Maine Blueberry Queens.  Oh to be young and pretty!
Stopping for a quick bite along the bike route.

Other bikers along the route had the same idea.
"Beech Nut" the stone house on top of the hill.  Great place for a picnic
or just to relax.  The stone house was created in the early 1900's by a Rockport
architect Hans O' Heistad (an associate of the famed Olmsted Brothers Co.).  The
lodge was built as a day cottage for afternoon tea and entertaining.  It has been
completely restored and is now used for Coastal Mountain Land Trust functions.
Another gorgeous view from the top of the preserve overlooking blueberry fields.
Beech Hill overlooks Penobscot Bay and numerous islands.
 

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