By Susan Stroh
I look out my kitchen window, eating blueberries from Chile, trying to imagine what it might be like to gather blueberries there, but I can’t get a mental picture. I feel sad eating out of a plastic box. I’m over three thousand miles and too many years away from my blueberry picking days. But pictures flood back in colors of vivid green, blue and velvety tan.
Fifty some years before nutritionists taught us that they had a special group of antioxidants that helped protect the body from free radicals, my big sister and I used to hunt blueberries while vacationing in Maine. We didn’t call our activity “picking” blueberries, we called it a hunt because we had to fight our way through thickets and brambles to find bushes so full of blueberries we had neither bellies nor buckets big enough.
A word about those buckets, they were really pails—big metal pails from hardware stores—no lightweight plastic pails from the five-and-dime. Those you could carry on your pinkie. In my earliest memory, I was four, and the pail was half my size.
We stayed at a place called “The Mountain House”, run by a couple whose children were grown. Mom referred to them as “that hard-working German couple” and they will remain so named in my memory forever.
When Mrs. Hard-Working-German-Lady gave me the pail, I complained, “This is too heavy.”
“Nonsense. It’s not far and besides you want to get lots of berries, don’t you?”
“And you know that all good things take hard work, don’t you?”
I nodded again only because her voice grew higher in volume and pitch.
“Well then, off you two go and bring back lots of berries and I’ll bake you a blueberry tart. Oh, and don’t go petting any bears along the way.” She laughed
I didn’t laugh. Bears? Were there really bears?
Maybe that was another reason why my eight year-old sister called our foray through the forest “a hunt,” we had to find those plump, firm berries before the bears did.
The challenge was huge: maneuvering a heavy bucket through a nature of flickering lights and darks to get the blueberries without encountering a bear. My sister led and I stumbled after, sure I smelled bear-breath behind me.
“Wait up!” my voice squeaked.
“Bears!” she sang, skipping ahead happily.
I raced after my fearless leader. She armed through some branches, bent under others, her red hair catching the dappled light, her dusty navy-blue overalls prancing up and down amongst green switches and swags.
Finally we arrived in the heart of a thicket of blueberry bushes lining a dirt road. No bears in sight. Insects serenaded us, the sun grew hot and we ate our fill. With blue teeth, we threw berries at each other, running from one another, kicking up the deep powdery dust of the road. Laughing and out of breath, we at long last filled our pails.
In those days no one carried bottled water, not even in thermoses. So, with parched dry throats and blueberry body tattoos, we took our overflowing pails and started back down the road.
I didn’t make it very far when I sat down in protest of the weight.
In a mock, adult-like sigh, my sister picked up my pail. And one in each hand she strode ahead of me tossing her braids behind her shoulders.
“Catch up, Freckle Face!” she hooted.
Side by side we marched, berries rolling off the top of the pails. Insouciant and victorious, my sister and I sang “The Bear Came over the Mountain” all the way back to the lodge.
I finish eating all the Chilean blueberries and toss the crackly container into the re-cycle bin. I grin while e-mailing my sister, “How about meeting in Maine for a blueberry hunt this summer? With the grandkids. Oh, and by the way, I’ll carry the pails!”
German-Style Blueberry Tart
½ cup flour ~ ¼ teaspoon salt ~ 1 ½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup sour cream ~ 1 slightly beaten egg ~ 1 stick butter, melted
1 ½ cup blueberries ~ 1 Tablespoon cookie crumbs ~ 2 T. sugar (raw is best)
pinch of cinnamon and cardamom if desired.
Mix together the dry ingredients, then mix in the wet, ending with the butter. Chill.
When crust is stiff, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and press the crust mix into a buttered round pan. Bake the crust 15 minutes.
When cool, add the blueberries that have been gently shaken in a bag with cookie crumbs. Lay the coated berries on the cooled crust, then sprinkle with sugar and spice. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, then cool and cut into pie-shaped wedges.
Good Ol’ Blueberry Muffins
Eat ‘em hot with butter
2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar (or ½ cup honey)
2 eggs, well beaten with 1 cup milk
1/3 cup fresh canola oil or ½ stick melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla, pinch of nutmeg
1 cup blueberries
~ Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.
~ Combine eggs, milk, oil or butter and vanilla to flour mixture. Stir until dry ingredients are mostly wet but still lumpy. Fold in blueberries gently.
~ Fill greased muffin pans 2/3 full or more if you want bigger muffins. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the middle of the muffins comes out clean.
~Makes a dozen muffins