Grit Blogs > Rural Legend

Foraging for Wild Blueberries: Free Food!

Brent and LeAnna Alderman StersteIf you’ve ever read one of our past posts here, you may have noticed that our current preoccupation is learning to enjoy life more by re-mastering skills from our rural/agrarian pasts. Recently, however, we decided to one-up ourselves on that. We decided to go further back into our ancestry. Beyond large-scale agriculture, beyond subsistence farming, and all the way back to the hunters and gatherers of centuries past: We went foraging for blueberries.

Hunting and gathering blueberries, just like our ancestors.

In our neck of the woods, there are plenty of berry farms. Some of them are even low-spray. We have friends who regularly pick multiple pounds of berries at these farms. And if we were reasonable human beings, we might very well do the same. But driven by an internal convergence of Yankee frugality and a desire for adventure, we drove off to the countryside to see if we could re-discover a plot of conservation land our friend once showed us where blueberries grow wild and abundant. That is, if you can find the place – and if you can beat the birds to them.

So on a whim on Sunday afternoon, we headed up to the hills and after twice deciding we were lost, finally stumbled upon the place. After a cool, wet start to the summer, the blueberries were just starting to ripen. And best of all, we seemed to have noticed this fact before the birds. The only problem is (and if you’ve ever picked wild blueberries you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about) wild blueberries are about ¼ the size of commercial blueberries. Generally speaking, this is fine with me. I find their small size is better for baking, and even (I would argue) offers a more densely-concentrated flavor. However, it does mean that it takes you about four times as long to pick the same volume of berries. You pick and pick and pick and look down to discover you’ve only gathered about half a cup. It can be a bit discouraging. Add a very hungry 9 month-old into that mix, and it all begins to feel a bit Sisyphean.

As expected, Mabel loves blueberries.

But we did in the end have a lot of fun and even manage to freeze a few quarts of berries for the winter. Best of all, it was all free from the land (just like our ancestors used to gather), beyond organic (being totally uncultivated and sandwiched in the middle of conservation land), and to boot, a good adventure for the whole family. The desserts we get to eat afterward really only sweeten the deal.

Fresh-picked blueberries

In addition to LeAnna’s fantastic blueberry-banana bread, here’s a new favorite recipe we recently whipped up: blueberry shortcake. It’s the variation on whipped cream that makes this fantastic. Feel free to alter the cake in whatever way you’d like, or even try other berries if you’d prefer, but please, oh please, try the whipped cream.

To make the shortcakes, prepare your favorite vanilla-flavored cake recipe, baking small quantities of it in jumbo muffin tins, yielding mini-cakes approximately 1 ½ inches tall.

The recipe for the World’s Happiest Whipped Cream is as follows:

3/4 cup of well-chilled whipping or heavy cream
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup well chilled sour cream

Whip the cream and sugar until it forms soft peaks. Add the vanilla. Gradually fold in the sour cream until it is mixed well. Chill.

When the cakes are cooled, slice the mini-cakes in half, top with whipped cream and some blueberries, then the second layer of cake, more whipped cream, and more berries. Yum.

A blueberry shortcake prepared for our friend’s birthday. She was not turning 1.

Have you ever foraged for food? What have you found? Where do you like to hunt for it?

cindy murphy
7/31/2009 9:46:43 PM

Ooooo - wild blueberries! Oh, geeze - that brings back a lot of childhood memories. We'd always go wild blueberry picking when camping; my Dad was a master at finding patches in fields along the edges of woods. Sometimes we'd drive for hours down dirt roads and two-tracks that nearly seemed impassable - and that was half the adventure. Then he'd stop the vehicle and we'd jump out, picking the tiny berries until our fingers and lips were blue. Small, but oh-so-good! I've got a few lowbush blueberry bushes planted between my highbush cultivars in the garden - and this year I put in five more lowbush in the new garden, strictly for nostalgic reasons. They were loaded with berries earlier, but I only got a small handful. My youngest daughter went "foraging" before I got to them! She and I took our pails and hit the wild blackberries along the rails-to-trails path here last year. I think we're too late this year though - the birds like the wild blackberries just as much as they do blueberries.