Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk.
To anyone who’s ever been a child, those are the sounds of Sal and her mother gathering blueberries in a bucket to can for the winter. Since I grew up in the Midwest, this was the closest I ever came to wild blueberries. Until now.
I am in the blueberry barrens Downeast, and the dominance of the wild blueberry in local culture is somewhat overwhelming. There are hand-painted road signs reading, “rakers wanted.” (Rakes are used to harvest the wild berries.) Ice cream shops serve blueberry ice cream — hard and soft serve. Virtually every B&B offers fresh-baked blueberry muffins. Roadside diners as well as white-tablecloth restaurants serve blueberry cake, blueberry crumble and, of course, blueberry pie. And there’s nothing better than a wild blueberry oatmeal cookie with your afternoon tea. Or blueberry pancakes for breakfast.
At the intersection of routes 1 and 187 in Columbia Falls, Me., Wild Blueberry Land — housed in a building shaped and colored like a giant blueberry — sells all things blueberry.
The U.S. is the world’s leading producer of blueberries both wild and domesticated. Maine is the top grower of wild lowbush blueberries, a North American native. The wild blueberry is the official state berry and this year’s crop is expected to be above average. Maine’s wild blueberry production last year totaled 91.1 million pounds, up 14 percent from the year before, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While the wild berries are not a cultivated crop, they are managed intensively.
Blueberries are not only fun to pick and delicious, they’re a power food. Scientists have shown that blueberries are loaded with compounds (phytonutrients) that may help prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
Blueberries may also improve short-term memory and promote healthy aging. Blueberries are a low-calorie source of fiber and vitamin C — 3/4 cup of fresh blueberries has 2.7 grams of fiber and 10.8 milligrams of vitamin C. All this from the Mayo Clinic.
We stopped at the 38th annual Wild Blueberry Festival in Machias and talked with a woman (wearing a hat that looked like blueberry) from Welch Farm in Roque Bluffs selling pie-ready blueberries — cleaned twice to remove all stems and leaves. She advised us to go to Helen’s Restaurant down the road for lunch to see what the kitchen does with the berries it buys from Welch Farm.
What they do is make blueberry pie. Phenomenally good blueberry pie. Helen’s has been famous for the stuff since the restaurant opened on Main Street in 1950. I believe the technical term for this pie is: to die for.
We were offered two choices: baked pie or cream pie. While the baked pie — with top and bottom crust — was hard to pass up, the cream pie is available only in summer. A baked pie shell is piled high — and I mean high — with fresh berries mixed with a little simple syrup to hold them together. Freshly whipped cream is then mounded on top. Ambrosia, food of the gods, etc.
Surely there must be a way to stuff lobster with blueberries.