Summertime means long days – long, lazy days to spend outside from early morning until the street lights come on. At least that’s what it was like when I was a kid. My memories of summer are sweet – swimming at the town pool, lying on the grass in my backyard watching the clouds float by while trying to figure out the different shapes they formed, fishing, playing in the woods and, of course, the neighborhood pick-up baseball games. But my favorite thing to do, for as far back as I can remember, was to pick blueberries.
I couldn’t wait for summer. I couldn’t wait for mid-July when I knew the berries would be ripe for the picking. And I couldn’t wait for summer Saturdays. On Saturdays my father didn’t have to go to work and one of the things he loved to do was to take me and my younger brother and sisters blueberry-picking.
It didn’t matter how hot it was. We would head out after lunch to “Blueberry Gulch” – a spot down the street from our house where the woods were full of blueberries. Before we left, Dad made each of us our own blueberry “bucket”, out of an empty coffee can that he had put aside for just this purpose. He’d make a hole, with a quick punch on two sides, then fashion a handle by slipping a piece of twine through each hole and tying it off. Voila. Blueberry buckets.
Unfortunately, Blueberry Gulch was paved over to make way for Route 495 when I was a teenager and most of the other spots we used to go pick are gone, too. Neighborhoods, commercial buildings, shopping malls, all have sprung up where the best picking used to be. I guess Joni Mitchell got it right when she wrote “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
For years I felt a twinge of loss when July rolled around, wishing for a place where I could fill a bucket or two with fresh, native blueberries. I have the best recipe for blueberry cake that my dearest Auntie Mary passed down to us and only fresh blueberries will do in that recipe. But the wild blueberry bushes were all gone.
Then I moved to Plymouth and discovered the U-Pick Blueberry phenomenon. All around the area there are farms with fields or bogs filled with cultivated blueberry bushes where you can pick to your heart’s content. And the berries are amazing.
I stumbled upon one of these spots while working a story for the newspaper. I was doing a story on Eastover Farms on Mary’s Pond Road in Rochester. This is a great farm stand with fresh produce and a barn where, at the time, there were magnificent Clydesdale horses that you could get real close to and go for a ride as they pulled a wagon around the grounds to the delight of everyone. (The Clydesdales are no longer there, but it’s still a great place to visit). I was a little early that day. The horses were still being fed, so the woman at the stand suggested I go down the street and pick some blueberries. Pick some blueberries?!? I was a little skeptical. Picking cultivated blueberries where the bushes were all in rows didn’t seem like picking blueberries to me. But, I figured I might as well check it out as I had about an hour to kill.
Just down the road a piece was a dirt road that wound through some woods and eventually opened up to acres of cranberry bogs on either side about a half mile in. I was starting to think I had made a wrong turn when I saw a little wooden hut with a counter up ahead. Hanging from nails all along the roofline were blueberry buckets – coffee cans with holes punched on either side and a handle of twine tied through them. I couldn’t believe it.
I stopped and talked to the elderly man and woman who were in charge. I told them I was new to the area and was killing some time. When I told him it was my first time at the bog, the old gentleman pointed me in the direction of where the “best berries” were, handed me a couple of buckets and smiled.
And so began my trip back to my childhood. I drove to the back bushes, grabbed my bucket and picked for two hours. I fell into a rhythm of picking that was as familiar as breathing. My mind was filled with memories of picking berries with my dad. I was amazed at the tranquility of the area, and even though it wasn’t Blueberry Gulch and the berries weren’t wild, I got the same satisfaction from the plink of the first few berries as they rolled around at the bottom of the bucket as when I was a little girl following my dad through the woods. By the time I was through I had filled each of my two buckets and had gone back for two more.
Over the 12 years I’ve been in Plymouth I’ve tried other U-Pick Blueberry Farms in the area. There are some great berries just ripe for the picking. If you are looking for something different to do on a gorgeous summer day, give picking blueberries a shot. Not only are the great in muffins, but add them to your cereal, smoothies, fruit salads or just eat ‘em by the handful. Here is a list of farms in the area where you can spend a few quiet hours and come home with a jackpot of delicious berries:
- Eastover Farm – Rochester MA – 508-763-5257
- The Blueberry Farm – Hanson MA – 781-447-1584
- Coyne Bog Berries – W. Wareham MA – 508-295-3254
- Town Line Farm – Plympton MA – 781-585-3233
- Maribett Farm – Kingston MA – 781-585-9670
- The Blueberry Patch – E. Wareham MA – 508-295-9289
It’s best to call first to find out the times they’ll be picking. Most places provide buckets, but you can always bring your own. Bring the kids, too. Start a cool tradition that will stay with them throughout their lives. Enjoy!