4th of July & Blueberry Pie

Baseball, the 4th of July, and warm apple pie. Quintessentially American. The essence of home. Except that I’m not very fond of apples. And, while fireworks are pretty for a few seconds, twenty minutes max, they are also insanely loud and terrible for the environment.

You stopped reading, didn’t you? Seriously, I’m not a scrooge.

I propose a different kind of holiday: Barbeques, baseball, and fireflies. And blueberry pie.

Fourth of July Blueberry Pie, click here for recipe by Kate McDermott

I went blueberry picking this week. I went last year as well but before that, it had been maybe fifteen years since I stood in the sun and my fingers took on a cobalt hue as I filled up buckets of plump blue pearls. I can’t believe it had been that long. Now, more than ever, I remember what I was missing.

Picking blueberries feels like home. Which, on the surface, is odd because I never picked blueberries as a kid. Instead, I picked raspberries.

In Michigan, where we would often spend the 4th of July, Grama had raspberries. One year she even gave me a bush – the scraggly one out beside the old corn crib. At least she said it was mine, which I suppose only meant that I could eat as much as I liked from that bush. All the other raspberries were used for a few summer desserts (featuring Cool Whip, of course) and then for jam. Grama made the best raspberry jam.

As for blueberries though, I have no memories. Not until I was married and we honeymooned in Saugatuck, Michigan. Next door, in Douglas, we discovered the Plummer Farm. Chuck and Lucy were a sweet old couple. They were alone, their kids were grown and had moved away. We liked them so much that they invited us back to play cards in the evening. And we did, right there at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and eating blueberry pie as night fell and moths buzzed around the overhead light.

They insisted we come back and stay on the farm. There was a one-room shack with full-size bunk beds on the back of the property. They took us to see it, driving out there on Chuck’s golf cart, and it looked okay. Sure, we said, we’ll stay here. With hundreds of mice scurrying out of our beds and across the ceiling overhead. Traumatizing and hysterically funny, it’s still a great memory.

For a few years then, we came back every summer to pick. They got older and Chuck’s health failed. My marriage ended and I moved away.

I can’t find a photo of blueberry picking but this was taken on the Plummer Farm while harvesting asparagus (1996?)

When I purchased my home in Idaho and created a garden, I wanted so very much to grow blueberries. My mother-in-love, native to Idaho, told me I was crazy. It was the only time she ever scoffed at me, twisting her face when I told her my idea. Her raspberry bushes were huge and prolific. Her raspberry jam was the only one I’ve ever tasted that was just as good as Grama’s.

Still, I tried. I purchased two bushes and packed the soil with coffee grounds. I measured the acidity regularly. And, I failed. The bushes never produced. Heck, they never even grew. As much as I imagined my Picabo home as my own private Michigan, the blueberries wouldn’t cooperate. But at least my raspberry bushes thrived.

So why do blueberries feel like home?

Home isn’t just our favorite childhood experiences, it’s the best times we create as adults.  

Watching the countryside whiz by from the passenger window reminds me of the annual drive so many years ago. Standing alone in an aisle of bushes picking and plucking is comforting and calming. A meditation of sorts. I whisper to the plants and thank them for their abundance. Sorting the harvest into small bags in my kitchen and delivering them to friends makes me happy. All these things together are reminiscent of a particularly pleasant time in my life, when my home was what I had created, not what I had inherited. My memories are good. Every time I pick blueberries, those feelings return. Life is simple again.

Blueberries bring me home.

Did you know that the U.S. produces about 40% of the world’s supply of blueberries? Only Canada produces more than the United States. Oregon leads in the U.S. cultivation, with Washington, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, California, and North Carolina making up most of the rest.

Hammonton, New Jersey, calls itself the “Blueberry Capital of the World,” which is, of course, hyperbole, but it does produce over 80% of all cultivated blueberries in New Jersey.

Maine is known for its wild blueberries, which are lowbrush berries, different from the highbush berries that are larger and those I mention in the statistics above.

Blueberries are also good for you. They have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all common fruits and vegetables and are among the most nutrient-dense berries. A 1-cup (148-gram) serving of blueberries contains:

  • Fiber: 4 grams
  • Vitamin C: 24% of the RDI
  • Vitamin K: 36% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 25% of the RDI
  • Small amounts of various other nutrients

Studies suggest blueberries may lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease as well as improve brain function and memory. They may also help heal urinary tract infections and reduce muscle soreness after exercise. All that goodness packed into one cup equals only 84 calories and just 15 grams of carbohydrates.

If you get a chance to pick blueberries this summer, do it. Each berry is a gift. But if you’re nowhere near a blueberry farm, pick up some organic ones at your local store. (Conventional blueberries have a high level of pesticides.) Make a blueberry pie, like Kate’s above. A blueberry cherry like the one below. Or, if you’re lazy like me, make muffins or scones. 🙂

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