Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Berries Are Red, Berries Are Blue...

Summer is just awesome, food-wise, here in the Midwest.

Once June hits, we know we're usually in for a stream of local fruits and veggies for the next 3 or four months.  From June's strawberry festivals to October's pumpkin patch adventures, it's all delicious.  And mid-July marks one of my favorites: blueberry season!

I've been going blueberry picking as long as I can remember, and started dragging my husband to the fields even before we were married.  (He should have known back then what he was getting into!)  Time went on, and one by one, we started taking the kids too.  Last year was a rough year for fruit crops, and the farm we usually go to was hit hard and had very little harvest, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because we discovered a patch with certified organic berries not too much more of a drive than then patch we usually went to.

This year, the kids and I went back, because their berries were plentiful and delicious, and they have great prices.  If you're anywhere around northern Indiana, I highly, highly recommend Blueberry Ranch.  It's just east of South Bend, about a 2 hour drive from the western Chicago 'burbs.  It's a bit off the beaten path, but still less than 10 minutes from 80/90.

Once you find them, all you have to do is grab a bucket and head out to the fields!

Once there, your friendly guide will direct you down a row, and you can snitch a few berries along the way.  Quality checks, if you will...

You will find another guide with a flag who will assign you to a bush (or 2 or 3) to pick clean, and then you can just get to work.  I'd say that we get, on average, at least 6-8 pounds off of each bush.

This year, the u-pick organic berries are $1.85 a pound.  You can also get 5 or 10 pound boxes already picked for you or 10 pound boxes of frozen berries, for a little higher per-poundage rate.

 Blueberry Ranch has several different types of blueberries, and the kind depends on when in the season you pick.  We had Spartans last year that were amazing, and this year we hit them in time for Bluecrops.  There were plenty of other people out in the field picking when we were there, as there usually are, and I always find it interesting to hear the conversations that take place in the field.

We lasted about 40 minutes in the heat (98 degrees...not as fun as the boy band makes it seem) with the 3 kiddos before the bugs smelled us sweating and swarmed in for the feast.  I'm pretty sure my little guy ate about 10 times what he put in the bucket.  Even with that, in the short time we were out there, we managed to pick over 10 pounds.

Once back inside, we picked up another 20 pounds of frozen berries (10 were for a friend) and 5 pounds pre-picked fresh berries.  We also grabbed a jar of blueberry salsa and a jar of blueberry barbecue sauce.  The salsa is a family favorite that we've had before, but the sauce will be something new to try.

If you make the trip out, I have a couple of other minor sidetracks to recommend.  If you come off of 80, you'll probably go down a road named Douglas, and there's a home on the north side of the street that has a farmstand out front.  Cash honor system, great produce.  I like to grab something on the way out.

Also, before you get back to the highway, there's a gas station on the southeast corner that is convenient for grabbing ice for your coolers, gas for you car, and just happens to have a cool farmstand,  Sweetcorn Charlie's, right next to it.  Sweetcorn Charlie's has guessed it...sweetcorn, but they also have good melons and other yummy treats.  Don't miss the preserves shed at the back of the stand!  I got pickled baby corn, raspberry salsa, chai pear butter, amaretto peach preserves, and some FROG jam out of there this year.  Not made with real frogs.  It stands for Fig, Raspberry, Orange, Grape.  But don't tell my kids.  They love it.

 What to do with all those blueberries?  Well, you could go for blueberry oat muffins or blueberry breakfast cake, or any number of awesome blueberry recipes.  I'll be posting one for blueberry pork tenderloin one of these days too.  You could stick them in the freezer for another time, like we did with the 10 pounds we picked and the 10 pound frozen box.  Or you could just eat them fresh.  With everything.  We knocked out that 5 pound box in 4 days.  That comes out to a quarter pound a family member each day.  What can I say?  We love our blueberries!

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