Photo Gallery | Blueberries in the Berkshires
Between strawberry season in late spring and the early fall apple harvest, there's another locally grown fruit ripe for the picking.
Blueberry bushes are currently chalk-full with the diminutive, tasty purplish orbs and area farmers are reaping the benefits of residents and tourists alike craving more freshly grown food.
"Blueberry picking has been gaining in popularity in the past few years due to press about their health benefits," said Eric Whitney of the family run Whitney's Farm Market on Route 8 in Cheshire.
"Farmers markets and community support agriculture (CSA) have provided general awareness of locally grown food," added Dennis Mareb, co-owner, with his wife Judy, of Windy Hill Farm on Route 7 in Great Barrington.
Windy Hill and Whitney's are among at least dozen Berkshire farms with one-to-two acres of blueberry fields open to the public from roughly mid-July through September.
Blueberry picking has become a staple of Mountain View Farm on Old Cheshire Road in Lanesborough, also known for pick-your-own strawberries, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables, according to co-owner Mike Weslowski.
"Every year, I see more and more people [picking blueberries,]" Weslowski said. "It's not as big as picking strawberries or picking apples, but it's good, summer filler."
Blueberry growers find the bushes are a hearty, fruit-bearing plant that can survive the harsh, New England winters and have few pests -- except for birds. Six years ago, Windy Hill Farm installed an enclosed netting system that stands nine feet high to prevent an avian attack of their blueberry plants.
"We would lose a huge amount of blueberries each year from turkeys to robins to cedar waxwings," Mareb said.
Mareb noted very acidic soil, weed control and nutrition management are also crucial to raising healthy, bountiful blueberry bushes.
Patience is also needed when growing blueberries.
Whitney cited how new plants are three to four years away from producing berries ready to pick and a total of six to eight years from reaching maturity.
Once established, blueberry bushes can last a lifetime if properly maintained, according to Weslowski.
"I have a mix of mature bushes, some 20 years old, and new bushes that will likely still be here when I'm gone," he said.
While blueberries gain in popularity at pick-your-own farms, they have long been a favorite among breakfast nooks, coffee shops and bakeries. From blueberry muffins in the morning to blueberry buckle for dessert in the evening, it's a fruit good anytime of the day.
As the baker/owner of A-Frame Bakery in Williamstown, Sharon Sutter finds blueberries the most ready-to-use fruit.
"You don't have to cut or peel them, just clean them and remove the stems," she said.
A-Frame Bakery is known for mouth-watering blueberry muffins, using a recipe Sutter has developed over time.
"It's been tweaked slightly as I've been reducing the amount of flour and adding more blueberries," she said.
And A-Frame customers find the more the "berrier.
"My Blueberry sour cream crumb cake, blueberry with ginger and the muffins are all highly sought after," said Sutter, proudly.
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Grandma Dapper's Blueberry Cake
Courtesy of Peg Weslowski, Mountain View Farm, Lanesborough
3/4 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup shortening
1/2 Cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 Cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Cups blueberries
1/2 Cup sugar
1/3 Cup flour
1/2 tsp Cinnamon (heaping)
1/4 Cup butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease or spray a 9-by-9-inch pan. For the cake, cream sugar and shortening together then add egg and beat until smooth. Add milk and vanilla and mix. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to egg mixture, stirring well. Slightly flour berries and combine, gently folding in to batter. Pour batter into greased pan.
For the topping, combine sugar, flour and cinnamon. Cut in butter with fork or pastry cutter until pea size. Mix until butter is coated. Sprinkle over entire cake. Bake for 35 minutes.
Cold Blueberry Pie
Courtesy Judy Mareb, Windy Hill Farm
Your favorite 9-inch baked pie shell
5 cups blueberries
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
Prepare your favorite 9-inch baked pie shell. Mix together in a saucepan sugar, cornstarch, salt, water and 1 cup of blueberries. Cook over low heat, stirring until thickened. Add the rest of the berries and 1 tablespoon butter. Mix well and cool. Refrigerate if you want a cold pie. Just before serving, pour into the baked pie shell. Spread 1 cup of sweetened whipped cream over the top. A perfect dessert on a hot summers day.
Blueberry Peach Pie
Courtesy of A-Frame Bakery owner Sharon Sutter
Pie crust dough for 9-inch shell, plus extra dough for lattice top
1 pint fresh blueberries
4 large ripe but firm peaches
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
Roll out dough for pie shell and for lattice (cut 6 strips). Chill.
Slice peeled peaches and toss with remaining ingredients.
Place filling into chilled pie shell and top with woven lattice. Brush crust with egg and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake on a sheet pan for approximately 35-40 minutes in a 375 degree oven. Let sit at room temperature for several hours before serving.