Wild Maine Blueberry Preserves and our Down East Maine vacation

Chris and I had a great time in Maine. I’m a bit sorry to be home– well, sorry to be in smelly Staten Island. If only I could move the whole family to Maine with me!
During the trip we visited Machias, wild blueberry capital of the world, for their 37th annual Blueberry Festival. It was so much fun. Click the photos to enlarge them.


The local fire department had a stand selling fried dough (Maine-speak for funnel cake). It was super hot by the stand and smelled of hot oil. Good thing the Fire Dept was in charge of it with all of that burning oil!
Remnants of my yummy baked bean dinner (I ate the biscuit before I remembered to take the photo). Chris ate a lobster roll, of course, and fish chowder. All of the food was homemade, they served it out of crock pots.  🙂  I’ve never eaten so much coleslaw in one trip. It’s pretty much the only veggie side you can get in the state other than potatoes and corn.  🙂 One other funny thing that the food stand was served in the parking lot for the local mechanic, so we ate with the faint smell of motor oil in the background. Chris didn’t like the ambiance.  😉
Center St. Congregational Church (they host the festival every year)
Festival stands – we bought some beautiful pottery from a local potter.
Ironic: the Benjamin Moore paint store across the street needs a paint job desperately!

I’d show the photo of Chris scarfing down his piece of blueberry rhubarb pie in the car (he couldn’t wait) but I think he’d get mad.  🙂

The best part was the tour of the Welch wild blueberry farm in Roque Bluffs (no relation to the grape juice, the family name is actually Hanscom, they have owned it for almost 100 years, but the original family that owned the land was Welch).

Wild blueberry field at a distance

Another view of the blueberry field… I love the colors.
Family farm home and barn… the barn is 100 years old, and unusual for it’s time as it’s built in the Western style, not the English style most common in Main during that time.

Blueberry field close-up: notice the grasses growing and how low the blueberries are

Blueberries in the field, up close (note the light blue powder coating, called bloom)

We learned so much… I never knew that wild blueberries are really low to the ground. These were only about 6-12″ high! They reproduce through their rhizomes, which run underground, so they mow or burn the entire crop down at the end of every year (alternating mowing and burning on a cycle– burning is really expensive but gets rid of pests). The blueberry plants come back from underground every year and you have berries every other year.

Burner used to torch the crops after harvest (in October) to prevent disease and pests
Lisa Hanscom (co-owner with her father, Wayne) showing blueberry rakes and antique winnowing machines. The Wooden wheel at left is used to roll and unroll the twine used to mark off rows for harvesting.

Winnowing machines and blueberry boxes

Harvesting machine (for blueberries that will be frozen)

Harvesting machine. The kid in the back loads the boxes to hold the blueberries and switches them out when full.

Blueberries that have been raked or harvested in the field, waiting to be brought in for winnowing and sorting.

They’re a very low-maintenance crop, comparatively. The farm we went to doesn’t fertilize them a lot, so they’re shorter than at other farms, but many farm blueberry fields that we passed throughout the region looked similar.
I also learned that farming blueberries is not a very profitable business… you aren’t told the price that you’ll get for your berries from the distributor until December after your harvest! That means the companies have all of the control. It’s really scary. The farm owners all work a couple of other jobs in addition to running the farm. It’s a labor of love.

Wayne Hanscom, in blue with blue baseball hat (co-owner, Lisa’s Dad). His stories were very interesting, learning how farming has changed drastically in his lifetime.

 I had a chance to harvest some of the berries myself, using the hand rake. It’s back-breaking work to be bent over like that and they work the field by hand to harvest the pie-ready berries (the best ones). The ones they sell for freezing are gathered by a harvester, which isn’t as delicate with the berries.
Once you’ve raked them you winnow them, which really comes from using the wind to sort out the berries from the leaves and grasses your rake may catch. To winnow by hand you tilt the rake down high above a box so that the wind takes the grasses and leaves and only the berries fall directly down into the boxes. Pretty cool. Now most farms use machines to winnow.
I also learned that the berries are really light blue in the field when they’re untouched. Too much touching knocks the light blue powder (called bloom) off of them and they look black instead.

Me hand-harvesting blueberries with a hand rake

Me harvesting berries (keep that comb tilted up or you lose the berries on the ground!)
Hand raked blueberries

 We also got to see how the berries are sorted by hand after picking. Even that is labor intensive, and slow, but really interesting. We bought 2 quarts of these berries, but since we had a number of days left of our trip before we were coming back to NY we ate some and put the rest in a cooler with freezer packs to keep them in tact so that I could make jam when we arrived home.

Blueberry sorting machine (dumps berries that are too light/dry before they get to the ladies who sort by hand)

The ladies that select the blueberries for fresh pack (or pie ready) sale – the rejects go to the distributor for frozen blueberry sales
The Hanscom family’s blueberry beetle!

A caterpillar on the path to the field (I wonder if he’s red because he eats blueberry plants!)

Wild blueberries are much less tart than high bush berries, and are smaller and have a milder, floral flavor and smell. They’re delicious but even better baked in a pie or cooked in jam. The jam was easy to make. 2 quarts of berries made 8 half-pints plus two tablespoons which we happily sampled (quality control is very important heeheehee).

My blueberry jam just starting to cook (still some light blue ones!). When it’s cooked it’s all dark, and smells delicious! Tastes just like blueberry pie.

Wild Maine Blueberry Preserves
Makes 8 half-pint jars
2 quarts wild Maine blueberries
4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 box low-sugar Sure-Jell pectin
Wash berries and place in dutch oven on stove. Mash some of the berries with a potato masher. Then stir in sugar and lemon juice. Bring to rapid boil, stirring frequently. Add low-sugar pectin and bring to boil for a full minute, stirring constantly. Fill sterilized jars, seal, and allow to cool. Listen for caps popping (vacuum seal). If any caps do not seal then refrigerate that jar and use within a month. The other (sealed) jars can sit in a cool dark place for months before opening.