The blueberry season started rather early this year, here, in the Saguenay Lac-St-Jean region of Quebec, where the people here call themselves the French word for the fruit. In fact, I saw pickers out in the fields near where we live around the first week of August.
Today is the last Sunday of the month, and there are still bleuets, (pronounced “blue-ays”) in the fields.
I’ve picked bleuets this year a few times. The first time was with my neighbour, Manon, and her mother-in-law, Solange. Manon brings her Springer Spaniel named Plume with her when she goes blueberry picking. Plume (French for “feather”), who wears a small cowbell around her neck, is our protection for any ours (bears) who may be picking bleuets too.
Solange, who has been a blueberry picker all her life, tied a bag to the top of a pine tree so others can see where she is. When she showed it to me, I was surprised she’d been able to get the bag that high as she’s not very tall. I eventually realized she’d been able to pull the branch down to tie the bag to it. I figured that out because when I retrieved the bag from off that tree, that’s how I was able to get it.
To pick blueberries, you need a container with a lid, a hat to protect your head from the sun, and, quite often, bug spray. It’s nice to have a seat or a foam board for under your knees, and you might want to wear sunglasses and bring something to drink with you.
Blueberries bushes are not uniform. Sometimes a blueberry bush will be full of berries, the berries clustered together to give you several berries at the same time. Sometimes there will be many berries together, but the ones in the middle of the cluster never grow, and stay white. The berries turn from white to blue as they mature.
Other blueberry bushes have many berries, but none of them are in clusters or families as my son Nic calls them, so even though they may have many berries, they take more time to pick than the ones in clusters.
Low Hanging Fruit
Low hanging fruit doesn’t have a very good reputation. It’s the fruit that’s easy to take, and shows that you’re, perhaps, lazy. With blueberries, sometimes the low hanging fruit is the best. And just because it’s low doesn’t mean it’s easy to get at. Those berries may be close to the ground, but you need to separate the branches of the bush to get down to where they are. And the later you go in the season, the easier it is for that low hanging fruit to fall down.
The second time I went blueberry picking, I went by myself. I had no bells to scare away the bears, but there were none, but there were others out picking that morning and their bells were ting ting tingling all around me. I was concentrated on the task at hand and when my 4-litre container was full, I went home. I had no watch with me either, and was surprised to find I’d been gone for four hours. That means I pick at a rate of about 1 litre per hour. And a litre is enough for a pie.
I like to put cinnamon in my pies, but many of the Bleuets here, like Manon, don’t like the taste of cannelle (that’s the French word for cinnamon). The first pie I made this year had cinnamon and lemon rind in it in addition to sugar and corn starch (to thicken it) and that’s my favourite recipe. But I don’t like it if a Bleuet comes over and doesn’t eat the pie I’m serving because of the cinnamon, and since the blueberries and the pie are both labours of love, and things I’m proud of, I prefer baking my pies straight up now, cinnamon-free, to satisfy their cannelle-sensitive palates.
Today I went picking, again with Manon, and again with the bell-ringing dog. The season is late, but there are still blueberries, and some are very big. We have found that blueberries like to grow sometimes under fir trees, and the ones that manage to grow there, can have the most blueberries ever. It also seems that sometimes you’re picking berries and your head turns and you stop picking from the bush you’re picking on, and turn and start on another. I mentioned this to Manon today, and she smiled and said it happens to her too.