As the summer is winding up, its the season of wild blueberries here. Blueberries in Finnish language is ‘mustikka’. As I mentioned in my previous post, walking, picking berries in any forest is an ok thing to do (as long as of course we follow certain basic etiquette…like not going too close to someone’s house/cabin). This year, with not much rain and continuous hot weather, we didn’t find a good source (I mean forest) to pick blueberries where we live. Three trips to three different forests resulted in measly one bucket of berries (about 5kgs). So, we had to head North of where we live to get more for this year.
Picking berries in the wild is a concept I got introduced to while I was a student at Washington State University. I had the privilege to accompany one of my friends, Sharon, into the mountains of Eastern Washington to pick Huckleberries! I was beyond delighted with that experience and I still remember eating more than picking to take home (~24yrs ago!!!) When we lived in Finland last time, we did pick blueberries for sure. I missed it when we moved back to California. Managed to actually find farms that grow blueberries and let you pick-your-own (for a price of course). This year, we are back to picking them in the wild.
There are at least 4 types of berries usually picked in forests here. Blueberries, Lingonberries, Cranberries and Cloudberries. Of course not all berries grow in all forests. This year I learnt more about what type of forests to look for blueberries and how dense of a forest is ideal for blueberry growth etc. Blueberries and Lingonberries can grow in the same forest but lot of places will have one or the other dominating depending on the conditions (soil, trees etc). Blueberries get ready first (end of July/beginning of August) and when their season is almost done (end of August/early September), lingonberries will be ready. Cranberries usually grow in marshy soils and are usually ready around the time of first frost. Cloudberries also grow in very marshy soils and usually get ready in summer (before blueberries) and also are the hardest to find and pick (and worth all the effort for sure). Would love to share more about the rest of the berries too but will focus on blueberries in this post and promise to write another one in a couple of weeks when its time to pick lingonberries!
Blueberries grow in forests with mainly pine and spruce trees. The forest also shouldn’t be too crowded (too many trees) so the undergrowth gets Sunlight. The picture at the top is a good example of a forest with potential for lot of blueberries (and lingonberries).
Picking blueberries (or any wild berries) in the forest is hard work although picking cloudberries is the hardest of all. Walking in the uneven forest in rubber boots, bending low to pick berries for long periods of time can be tiring. Inspite of that, I feel addicted to picking berries and after a weekend of picking them, I start dreaming about round, plump berries just within the reach of my hand 🙂
Blueberries do not grow in clusters. More often than not, a single stem will have only one berry. Luckily you don’t have to pick one berry at a time by hand (although you can!) A simple berry picking device is available here which enables you to sweep through a few stems at a time and the berries get dropped into the picker and the stems come out unharmed (most of the time). A few leaves do get in along with pine needles and moss. Here’s a short video of how it works. Saves lot of time for sure!
If you hand pick each blueberry, there will be no additional clean up work after. But when you use the picker, needles, dried leaves and moss do get in. As you can see in the picture, these are not ready to be frozen right away. You can, of course, clean them by hand picking each and every one of those needles and leaves but its quite time consuming (especially if you picked a few buckets!) and berries can get smushed. Or you can use this little ingenious device! The device has a funnel and a long tube with one more tube attached to the side. You pour the berries slowly into the funnel, with the top of the tube connected to a vacuum cleaner. The straight tube goes down into a bucket to catch the blueberries. While the berries are traveling down the tube, the leaves, pine needles etc gets sucked into the vacuum cleaner on account of them being light and the heavier berries go into the bucket. You might lose a few berries that get sucked into the cleaner but not a lot and it saves hours of time cleaning!. Check out the video my son made while I was cleaning. Such a simple device! We will end up using the same device for lingonberry cleaning too!.
Pardon the quality of the video…still learning how to embed the video here and will correct it soon…
There’s another berry you find in the forests, usually amongst the blueberry plants. The berry almost looks like a blueberry (darker in color) and most times, I just pick them along with blueberries without even thinking. They are called bog bilberry. Came to know that, not only its a safe berry to eat, it has highest concentration of Vitamin C although it is very mild flavored.
We picked 3 buckets this year (~15-18kgs) and that’s on very low side compared to any of my family members here:) . We freeze the berries in small containers within hours of picking to keep the freshness. A small trick I learnt is to sprinkle a little sugar into the berries to keep their flavor better. What do we do with all these blueberries you ask? well, for one, I love eating berries with a touch of sugar in my oatmeal everyday in the morning (and having a variety of berries is awesome for that!) And there’s always blueberry pies, blueberry cakes, blueberry chutneys, blueberry jams, ….One of the comfort foods for me here is making blueberry soup (closest english translation to the Finnish name – mustikka soppa) and eat it with Helmi velli (potato starch pearls cooked in milk). As it gets colder and winter sets in, warm berry soup (mix different berries for a change of flavor) is yummy, fast and healthy. Thought I will share the recipe for the soup here but the post already became too long so midweek I will post just with a traditional Finnish blueberry recipe or two.
But before I end the post, I have to also mention this. If a good source/forest is found for a particular berry, its location is usually not shared with anyone else;) . It becomes a closely guarded secret:) . Maybe with blueberries not so much but with some of the other berries, that’s the case for sure. I remember even in Washington state, the location of huckleberries is never revealed to anyone:). So, don’t ask me where we found the berries.. I am afraid if I even give a hint, next time, my family and friends might blind -fold me before taking me to a good spot they are willing to share!
Hope you enjoyed the blueberry picking journey with me….