The ground is wet with morning dew. The air feels damp and on the verge of almost sticky. It is familiar to anyone who has spent summer in the Midwest. The bright sun is starting to provide warmth to my skin. The path I walk on is a mixture of sand and dirt. I take a deep breath, and I look ahead to see the vast beauty that can only be seen on a blueberry farm in the middle of summer.
As one of the “superfoods,” blueberries are nutrient rich, low in calories and a great source of fiber. But have you had the opportunity to enjoy not just the joy of eating blueberries but the satisfaction of harvesting them for yourself?
This year I’ve gone blueberry picking every week since the season began the first week of July. I prefer to choose a day of the week that is cooler and make it part of my morning errands. I am fortunate to have my favorite place, Stateline Blueberries in Michigan City, Indiana, close to my home. There are blueberry farms all over, but there is just something I love about this particular one.
With 35 acres of blueberries at my fingertips, I have spent my time this summer exploring different varieties and gaining a greater understanding of the multiple colors, shapes and flavors a blueberry can present.
I consider myself a bit of a blueberry picking expert so I thought I’d share with you some tips to make the most of a blueberry picking experience. (I’ve picked over 30 pounds for anyone is interested in TCB blogger trivia.)
Go Out Prepared
Unless your goal is to post pictures of you twirling in a blueberry field in your maxi skirt and straw hat, your day will go better if you dress appropriately.
Odds are it will be warm so shorts are great unless you are like me and like to crawl on the ground and pick from the lower branches. Dress in layers because it may start off chilly but it can get hot fast!
Make sure your footwear is appropriate. You will be doing a lot of walking and some of it may be muddy. I usually wear old gym shoes or my walking sandals. Sandals aren’t really the best choice because you end up with really dirty feet but that makes the experience feel more authentic to me.
I’d also recommend a light hat to protect your face and some sunscreen. And maybe a water bottle at the ready.
Check with your farm to make sure they offer buckets or pails for picking. You may need to bring your own. Some people also bring a rope to tie their bucket to their waist. It frees up your hands. I personally don’t do this because I find walking with a 5-pound bucket around my waist awkward.
Also, bring something to carry your berries home. A box, a bag or a large pail will help you transfer them safely. Stateline sells boxes to transport your blueberries. I’ve been using the same one for a couple years now.
Check your farm’s policy on bringing your dog with on your adventure. Most working U-Pick Farms that I’ve been to have a no dogs policy. My dog, Scout, likes blueberries so much that she would clean them out in an hour.
Good for the Picking
When you get to a blueberry farm, odds are they will direct you to the section of the farm that currently has the ripest berry. Like any kind of farm, the availability of the various berries is climate dependent. There is no set start or stop date so be prepared to pivot if your heart might be set on a variety that may not be currently harvestable.
Picking shouldn’t be over thought, but there is a little consideration to keep in mind when you get to your first bush. It should be obvious that a ripe blueberry is blue but it is more than that.
Blueberries go from a tiny green bud to almost a pale blush to purple red tones to blue. A good blueberry should be blue or the blueish grey all around. If you see some lighter hues on the top, it is not ready. You want the color to be consistent all around.
A Gentle Touch
At the blueberry bush (or shrub), the blueberry shouldn’t need very much coaxing to come off in your fingers. If you feel like you have to tug, it isn’t ripe.
If you gently cup the bunch of blueberries and hold your pail underneath them, you can almost use your fingers to tap them off. (I’ve also heard this referred to as the blueberry tickle.) A ripe blueberry will practically drop off the stem on its own. I will hold the stem in one hand and wiggle my fingers at the roots. The good berries fall right off. (If you are familiar with spirit fingers, you can do that too.)
There is no other gauge of a good blueberry better than your mouth! I’m not saying go out to a blueberry field in your Thanksgiving pants and eat everything in sight. I’m encouraging you to test one or two before you fill up your pail.
A gigantic berry is gorgeous, but do you like that texture? They are usually softer and super juicy. Maybe you like a smaller berry that gives you a burst of flavor as your teeth chomp down on its delicate skin. Heck, you might decide that you like one that isn’t as consistent in color. The choice is yours!
Take Your Time
Allow the blueberries to not only nourish your body but feed your soul. Take this time to allow your senses to take over and appreciate the steps it takes to bring these little beauties to your table every year.
I have used picking blueberries this summer as personal reflective moments. I’ve thought about everything in life. I will say that my mind feels clearer after an hour of picking, and it is cheaper than therapy.
I’ve enjoyed the silence of my surroundings and at time the banter of those around me. And if you go with friends, here is a gentle reminder that bushes do not make good walls. Everyone can hear your conversation so let’s keep it G-rated.
Don’t Waste a Berry
It is very easy to pick multiple pounds of blueberries in a short amount of time. It is not as easy to eat them all before they get mushy.
I clean mine as I use them but some people chose to wash them all when they get home. The biggest key is to make sure they are dry before you store them.
Refrigerate in a shallow (no more than an inch or so) container. You may have to do multiple containers. Too many berries stacked on each other may cause them to crush and get softer faster. I’ve also separated my berries with a paper towel. Make sure the container is breathable so there isn’t moisture trapped inside.
If you pick too many (if there is such a thing), know you can freeze some for future uses. Clean them and let them dry completely. Spread the berries out on a sheet pan and freeze in a single layer. Once fully frozen, the blueberries can be transferred to a large plastic bag or airtight freezer container.
Step Outside of the Blueberry Box
This summer I have made requisite blueberry muffins, scones, BBQ sauce, blueberry boy bait, blueberry lemonade, yogurt parfaits and eaten them by the handful. I had some fun this week and quick pickled a batch to add to a salad. It is great way to use up some extra berries. The berry becomes a sweet/sour version while keeping the essence of blueberry flavor alive.
Knowing that the season only has a few weeks left, I keep looking for more ways to incorporate blueberries into my menus. As always, I looked at The Chopping Block Blog which has more blueberry recipes than I can count. I’m also curious to see the Blueberry Corn Cake Napoleon our chefs will be making at the Green City Market Chef BBQ this year.
The Chopping Block has a couple classes coming up that may also work for the bounty you pick, such as Hands on All American Pie Workshop, Saturday August 20, 2022 at Lincoln Square from 10am -1pm.
Blueberry season is only around a few more weeks, but as we all know, they are available year-round in most markets. Even if you don’t pick them yourself, support your local farmers and buy some from them before it is too late.
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Makes approximately 1 quart of blueberries
Active Time: 20 minutes
Inactive Time: 24 hours
1 pint of fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups champagne vinegar (I am going to use the pickling brine for a vinaigrette. I’ve also used white vinegar and rice vinegar.)
1/2 cup of water (not pictured)
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, whole not ground
3 Tablespoons of sugar
1 Tablespoon of salt
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 sprigs of rosemary
*Please note: this is a recipe that requires refrigeration and is not shelf stable.
1. Clean and dry a quart canning jar. If you don’t have a jar, a heat-resistant glass storage dish will also work.
2. Place blueberries, sliced shallot and rosemary in your jar.
3. Heat a small non-reactive pot (I use a 2.5 quart Le Creuset French Oven) over medium heat.
4. Add the coriander seeds and allow them to toast in the pan. You will want to move them around a bit. The toasting helps wake up the coriander flavor.
5. Once your coriander is toasted (it won’t be incredibly fragrant but you should get a whiff or two of the herb), add the sugar, salt, water and vinegar.
6. Increase the heat until it boils and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove from heat.
7. Using a ladle, pour the hot liquid into the jar until it reaches about 1/2-inch from the top. If you do not have a canning funnel, I strongly suggest you add that to your kitchen tools. The wide-mouth opening helps prevent you from pouring hot liquid all over your counter and rim of your jar.
The hot liquid will bust up some of the berries, and that is okay. The liquid should completely submerge the berries. Do not cap if there are any berries uncovered. You can either make more brine or remove said rogue berries.
8. Allow the jar to come to room temperature.
9. When I make fridge pickles, I use Ball designed screw on caps. The metal lids can only be used once and their purpose is to create a tight seal. For these types of projects, you don’t need the vacuum sealing effect.
10. Place in the refrigerator. I like to give them about 24 hours to soak in the flavor but have found myself eating some after a few hours.
11. To remove, use a slotted spoon. I personally like the bite of the pickled coriander seed but some people don’t, so take a taste. It is very simple to pick the berries out amongst the seeds. And take advantage of the pickled shallots that are in there, they are delicious!
Here are some ways to eat these pickled blueberries:
- An accompaniment to a cheese and charcuterie board.
- On a piece of sourdough toast smeared with goat cheese.
- Fruit on a salad. I do a mix of pickled blueberries and sugared blueberries so you get a sour/sweet surprise!
Here's a salad I made with baby spinach, goat cheese, pickled blueberries, sugared blueberries, pickled shallots and toasted almonds. The dressing was a basic vinaigrette using the pickling brine as my acid.