Saturday, July 24, 2010

Blueberries: The Continuing Saga

While I waited patiently for the wild blueberries to get a move on and ripen up, the cultivated bushes are gong nuts all over the place around here.  Peak season can often mean discounts for bulk.  We don't want to miss out on things like that, so thanks to my lovely aunt and cousins who watched my children all day while I drove to Tougas Family Farm and picked blueberries for three hours.  I just made the 25 pound discount.  Only just!  It takes s a long time to pick tiny fruit off a bush.

After about 45 minutes or so, the field I was in started to clear out until I was the only person left in that area.  I stood in front of the same 4-6 bushes for the entire time (they were laden with ripe fruit), with no sound but the wind in the pines and the birds over head.  Silence.  Those of you with children may have a hard time understanding me here.  What I mean to say is: there was no sound.  For two full hours.  I'm not sure I've had that experience in a couple of years at best.  It was magnificent.  So much so, that a couple of times I got kind of choked up.  I didn't full on cry, but I came close. 

When I got home it quickly became clear to me that my children could easily eat 25 pounds of blueberries in one sitting. so I took them away. I filled a couple of pints and put them in the fridge for snaking.  I have frozen 12 pounds.  To freeze them I just laid them on a baking sheet lined with parchment  paper in one pound batches (about three cups) and froze them.  After that I put them into mason jars.  I would have probably vacuum sealed them but I was out and it seems a little easier to get at this way, I can take as little or as much as I need.  They do, however take up more space in the freezer this way, so I may have to vacuum seal them later anyway.

I also took 3 pounds and made 4 pints of blueberry juice concentrate (instructions here).  With this I will be able to make refreshing blueberry juice and berry sumacade during the winter.  I am planning to make 12 jars of jam tonight (if I don't choose to go to bed instead) and will dehydrate about four pounds into fruit leathers, which I hope come out better than my strawberry fruit leathers
These 25 pounds will most likely take care of my yearly blueberry needs.  I went back with the kids the next day and we picked for pleasure an even got some peaches.

 We took home about three pounds, which are being turned into pancakes, snack, and dinner. 
Athena Made this lunch herself!
While I was out in the blazing heat picking the cultivated berries, the precious wild berries were ripening.  I made plans with my friend Kerry, fellow mother and earth lady, to meet in the woods behind Target.  She would bring her two boys and I would bring my big girl.  We got up early, grabbed our buckets and our cups on strings (these are to hang around your neck to free up both hands for picking) and tromped into the woods.  The bushes were covered! It was a much better show than the week before.  Athena got right to picking, just as I thought she might.  We hadn't been in the woods 10 minutes before Kerry's little one, James, let out an ear piercing scream.  He had been stung by a bee.  His momma managed to calm him down and he was game to keep picking (and eating) the tiny wild berries.   We got back into our groove and there was another ear piercing scream.  This time from Athena.  It kind of started as a whine and so at first I didn't think she was hurt.  She's four-and-a-half and whining happens a lot around here.  But within seconds, I realized she too had been stung by a bee.  I could see the little guy on her pants.  I pulled the pants away from her leg, but there was still screaming.   I picked her up to carry her to the path and over her shoulder I could see Kerry's horrified look, "She's covered in bees," she said.  Sure enough Athena had a bunch of bees on her pants.  We stripped them off and her poor little legs were covered in at least ten stings.  Luckily I had made toothpaste the night before and had brought some for Kerry to try out.  She ran to the car to get it and I put the baking soda mixture on all the bites. I guess it neutralizes the sting. It seemed to make a difference.  But the bees wouldn't leave her pants alone.  I think she probably got more peach juice on her pants than I had realized before leaving the house.  To make matters worse, they were inside out, so there were bees all up in her pants.  Kerry got a stick and tried to get the bees out, because, you know, she had no pants on, but while the attempt was being made, James got stung again.  Off came his pants.

"Just leave the pants here, I'll get them another time!"  And out we ran, about a third of a cup of blueberries between us and two kids with no pants on. 

Back at the van, while we waited to see if our kids were going to go into anaphylactic shock, I ran into Target to get Athena something to wear.  When I got back and gave her a dress, she was very pleased, and not suffocating.  So all was good.  We relaxed a bit.  The kids ate some pretzels.  I spent my time feeling horrible.  I had led my new friend, her children and my own first born into a bee hive.  Traumatizing children is not part of my wild edibles MO. My revelry of self-loathing was interrupted by yet another ear-piercing scream.  Apparently the bee that had been hanging out on James for the past 20 minutes had decided to sting him. Poor kid! So we made everyone take their clothes off and reinspected them for bees. 

We all calmed down again.  The kids listened to music and the mothers discussed the resilience of children.  We eventually decided to run our errands at Target so we could at least say we got something done.  We walked along the edge of the parking lot, the ripe, plentiful blueberries teasing us all along the way.

"Ain't nothin' in this world is free, baby," they said, "take the bad with the good and come on over."

We (the moms) decided we would find something in Target to occupy our children, and after our errands were run, we would come back out and pick some more.  And so we did, Kerry pulled up her van, parked it sideways and opened the door.  We sandwiched the kids in between the van and the edge of the parking lot.  Armed with a new box of sidewalk chalk we told them to "stay in between these white lines" and went into the woods to pick blueberries.  Really, we were right there, just up a two foot slope.
 Athena and James sitting on the curb, the blueberry forest in the background.  Athena is admiring her "sorry-you-got-stung-by-ten-bees-and-we-had-to-leave-your-pants-in-the-woods" dress
Eventually, they heard the saucy call of the blueberries and came up to join us, picking and eating to their heart's content.  They were not even scarred for life a little bit.  In under an hour we both picked about two cups.  This is really not so bad for wild bushes.  We didn't travel far and could have gotten a lot more with a little more time and a little less kids.  We are working out a way to go back without the little angels. 

I feel like I have passed some sort of initiation.  This is my first utterly ridiculous time collecting wild edibles.


  1. You sure they were bees? Bees are not "usually" aggressive and this is a great deal of stings, from a concentration of bees. Typically bees do harvest together but they don't attack in an organized fashion unless you were "threatening" the actual hive. The juice on the pant leg would draw them, but once they felt body warmth they would leave. Yellow jackets, maybe?

  2. I cant wait to retell this story to them over the years...can you imagine them talking with thier friends when they get older...
    "When was the first time you got stung by a bee?"
    "My crazy mother and her crazy friend took us wild blueberry picking behind Target......."
    To funny! At least all was well in the end...when are we going back?(heehee)