The blueberry business is "dominated by big corporations," Parks says, which to him translates into chemicals and a focus on quantity over quality. "This is kind of the opposite end of the spectrum," he says of the two(ish) months he spends raking each year.
Want to know more?
The annual wild blueberry harvest in Maine is can run from 75-85 million pounds (the 2005-2009 average was 77 million pounds). That's a lot of blueberries, and they represent a) a lot of money, and b) a lot of hard work. It makes sense, then, that there's a lot to learn about Maine's state fruit — more, even, than we could include in this primer-pastiche.
In The Wild Blueberry Book, published this year by Down East Books, Belfast native Virginia Wright explores the before and after aspects of the wild-blueberry business. Among her topics, she covers the relationship between blueberries and bees, an interview with Union Fair Blueberry Queen Bethany Snowe of Thomaston, and a diagram of what happens to berries "inside the packing plant," from winnowing to packing to freezing.
All of this content is peppered with blueberry recipes such as Baked Stuffed Lobster (which combines two classic Maine ingredients — the stuffing contains bread crumbs, crabmeat, and blueberries) and Faye Harvey's Blueberry Pie (the first-place winner in the 2010 Union Fair two-crust pie contest), as well as berry trivia. For example, did you know that blueberries were first harvested commercially in the 1840s, when sardine canneries started processing them and shipping them to Union soldiers to prevent scurvy (blueberries are rich in Vitamin C)? Or, that one cup of blueberries contains 83 calories? Or, that it's better not to rinse your just-picked blueberries because moisture shortens their lives?
Pick Your Own
Speaking of just-picked berries, there is still time (but not much!) to harvest your own at one of Maine's many family-run farms. Here's a partial list of places to scoop your own fruit (we've selected places that grow the lowbush varieties, but there are many others where you can pick highbush berries) or pick up a freshly plucked batch; bring them home for fresh-eating, freezing, jelly-making, or smoothie-making. Call first to make sure they're still ripe for the pickin'.
• HOG BAY BLUEBERRIES | 207 Hog Bay Road, East Franklin | 207.565.3584 | Through September 14; 9 am to 5 pm daily. Rakes provided.
• BLUEBERRIES ON TOP | 779 Barrett Hill Road, Union | 207.313.2944 | Though early September; Monday-Saturday, 8 am-6 pm, Sundays 8 am-noon.
• BEDDINGTON RIDGE FARM | Rt. 193, Beddington | 207.638.2664 | Dry weather in August and September; call ahead. Use your rakes or theirs.
• Crummett Mountain Farm | 305 Crummett Mountain Road (runs between Rte 105 and Rte 17), Somerville | 207.549.7314 | Through Labor Day. MOFGA-certified organic. Call for hours (very early in the morning and leave your phone number).
• Sewall Orchard | Masalin Road, Lincolnville | 207.763.3956 | August-November; Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am-4 pm. Apples too!