In one of his dialogues, comedian Jim Gaffigan describes the sometimes slow torture of a typical New England pastime. “Picking blueberries isn’t like picking pumpkins: ‘Hey, I got one…now let’s get the hell outta here.’ With blueberries, you’re never done, because even after 3 hours, you’re like, hey, I got…….8! We can make a muffin!’
Blueberries are pretty small for fruit. And it does take hours and hours to get the 4 cups needed to fill a pie. For my family, it was a summertime tradition. Our usual destination was Joe English Hill in New Boston. Early on a Saturday morning, my father, brothers and sister and I would hike up to the highest point. Each of us had the requisite coffee cans to fill. (This was in the days before Tupperware). The July sun would beat down on our backs and our necks would ache from straining as we crouched in the scrub to pick the ripest cluster of berries. And there were other surprises—the garter snake slithering by, the red ants that might take a few bites out of your leg. Then there was the time I stepped on a yellow jackets’ nest! Not a fond memory. But every now and then, with each of us in our own quiet section of open hilltop, we would hear a white-throated sparrow call, or see a hawk glide slowly by, suspended in the balmy wind above our heads. Admittedly, blueberry picking can be boring and uncomfortable but it can also be meditative—the sun, the woods, the quiet.
Or maybe I just got an extra Hunter/Gatherer gene. I suspect my father had something to do with it. When he was a boy in the 1920s he remembered taking a bus to the outskirts of Bridgeport, Connecticut to pick blueberries with his father. My grandmother would use what they picked to fill pierogies for their once-a-week Sunday desert.
So, if you have that fruit-picking gene like me, or if you just love the taste of berries, there are many places nearby where you can try your hand at ‘gathering’: www.nh.com/pickyourown. And once you pick your fill, why not take home a book or two with recipes for baking a batch of muffins, a cobbler or a pie? If you are interested in preserving, or putting food by, I suggest Put ‘em Up! A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook. And if you’re in a hurry, what could be easier than making a delicious jam or syrup in your own microwave? Just think, as you look out your window as the snow falls this January, what could be better than a hot piece of buttered toast, slathered with your own handpicked blueberry preserves?