'Exceptional' NH blueberry crop is ripe and ready for picking
If you're looking for fresh blueberries, now is the time to get picking.
Despite extreme weather this summer, from driving rain to steam heat, local growers say this year's crop is plentiful, and it's ready now.
"We're having an exceptional year with blueberries," said Chip Hardy, vice president of Brookdale Fruit Farm in Hollis.
Hardy said the rain has been good for his four acres of blueberry plants, and when temperatures rise, a good irrigation system helps them to remain healthy.
"They're a very forgiving plant," Hardy said. "The hot weather hasn't affected us too much."
Rich Bailey, who purchased Berry Good Farm in New Boston last September, said that while heavy rains haven't done any damage, weather always remains a factor in what the plants will yield and when they will be ready for picking.
"Blueberries love water," he said, "but rain isn't always good – you can have problems if there is too much rain."
Bailey said a warmer winter and late spring will push the season forward a bit, whereas a colder spring will delay it.
"This year was kind of normal," Bailey said, noting that last year, the farm opened on July 4, and opened on July 11 this year.
Joanne Smith, who owns High Hopes Orchard in Westmoreland with her husband, Bruce, said the heavy rains before the season officially began were helpful for their blueberry crop, but significantly damaged the farm's crop of less hardy raspberries.
"We had to throw away that whole first production," she said. "All of the rain ruined what was ripe."
Smith said the farm grows and wholesales blueberries right into the fall, and participates in several area farmer's markets.
She credits good soil and fertilizer with providing a solid foundation for growing great-tasting berries.
"If the pH is off even a little, it can throw off the flavor," she said. "People tell us we have the best around."
Pickers at Berry Good Farm said that picking is a New England tradition, and one they look forward to every year.
"We started coming here when these bushes were still short," said Carmen Gagnon of Goffstown, who was picking recently with friends Lucille Dionne and Edna Paradis. "This is a tradition my father started."
Dionne and Paradis said they stick to more traditional recipes with their blueberry haul, which can be as much as ten pounds.
"I make a batch of muffins," Dionne said. "The rest I freeze for cereal all year long."
"It's nice in the summer to munch on them frozen," added Paradis.
Dionne said store-bought blueberries just don't compare to the ones she picks herself, and the friends agreed that picking them is half the fun.
"Even if I wasn't able to eat them, I'd probably still pick," she said.
Berry Good Farm offers the following tips for handling blueberries:
• Fresh blueberries should be rinsed and drained just before serving.
• The white, powdery surface on the berry is not spray, but the "bloom," a natural coating that keeps the fruit fresh longer. Don't rinse off the bloom until just before you eat the berries.
• After picking, refrigerate the berries as quickly as possible. Open the container, so the berries will chill as fast as possible. Later, close the container. If you don't eat them first, they will keep almost two weeks.
• Freezing: Sort and freeze in plastic zipper bags. The berries will separate easily later if not washed.
The following recipes are courtesy of Berry Good Farm:
Big Nana's Blueberry Buckle
1/4 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups sifted flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup milk
2 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 tsp. saltCrumb Topping: Blend together:
1/4 cup soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Cream butter, add sugar, beat until light. Add egg and beat well. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk, beat until smooth. Fold in blueberries. Pour into greased 9 x 9 x 2 pan. Sprinkle with crumb topping. Bake at 375 for 35 minutes.
Fresh Blueberry Tarts
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 pkg. (6-count) individual graham cracker tart shells
2 cups fresh blueberries, divided
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
In bowl, beat cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Spread in tart shells. In a bowl, mash 3 tablespoons blueberries with sugar, lemon juice and peel. Add remaining berries and toss. Spoon into tart shells. Chill for 1 hour.
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