Don’t miss the summertime blues

Blueberry picking at Kelder’s Farm in Kerhonkson (photo by Julie O’Connor)

Blueberries bring out the kid in us. Unsexy, a weird color and tutti-frutti sweet, they appeal to kids of all ages, from 2 to 102. Bluebsies are the stuff of children’s literary fantasies. There are the charming tot and bear cub who pick them in Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (Viking, 1948). Violet Beauregarde turns into a giant one in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Knopf, 1964). They’re cute and round and oh-so-blue.

Blue is America’s favorite color, evoking calm and coolness. But edible blue foods are few, and often more purplish or gray than true blue: Think bluefish, bleu cheese, blue potatoes and blue corn tortillas.

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I was a really lucky kid. We had blueberry bushes in the backyard behind Daddy’s huge organic garden, near a creek with a rough board bridge that gave way to an acre of underbrush. I remember spending a lot of time in the summer with my sisters and friends plucking them off the high bushes and popping them into our mouths. In my memory’s eye, they were fat as plums.

Failing backyard bushes, some years there are scrumptious spicy little wild ones in the Shawangunks; but this year the season was a month early and none are left, say the folks at the Mohonk Preserve’s Daniel Smiley Research Center in New Paltz. But there are plenty of places around to pick your own.

Kelder’s Farm at 5755 Route 209 in Kerhonkson is one. “The fantastic thing about berries is that not only are they some of the tastiest things on Earth,” say Jackie and Chris Kelder, “but they are also incredibly nutritious, their dark and bright colors clues to the potent antioxidants and vitamins they contain.” Kelder’s is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day and hopes still to have blueberries another week or two. But as with all the U-Picks, it’s a good idea to call ahead. Reach Kelder’s at (845) 626-7137.

There are a few places on the other side of the river as well. In Dutchess County, Fishkill Farms in Hopewell Junction are also open seven days from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and report that they still have some blueberries; but again, call ahead at (845) 897-4377. Secor Farm in the Town of LaGrange has them. It is located on Robinson Lane, between Route 376 in Wappinger and Noxon Road in LaGrange. It is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Look at its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/secorfarm or call (845) 452-6883. Greig Farm on Pitcher Lane in Upper Red Hook has them as of this writing. It is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days. Call (845) 758-1234.

Up in Columbia County, try Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook, at 5 Sunset Avenue. They are open seven days from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call (518) 758-7224. Organic but open only on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon is Thompson-Finch Farm in Ancram, located at 750 Wiltsie Bridge Road. Call (518) 329-7578.

As anyone who reads the paper knows, blueberries are nutritional powerhouses. “They make you smart,” one friend tells me, who likes them over Greek yogurt, with honey drizzled and walnuts scattered. Not only scientifically shown to improve memory, they are excellent sources of those precious antioxidants, as well as vitamin C and fiber. They have vitamin A, manganese and potassium as well.

Their powdery protective coating means that they’re great keepers, and will last in the fridge far longer than more delicate types of berries. They’re one of the few fruits indigenous to this country, and native peoples loved them. They dried many, and stewed them with meat. The Shakers painted woodwork with blueberry skins mixed with milk, indigo and sage blossoms.

I’m rather a blueberry purist and not given to creating fancy concoctions, so I stick to sprinkling them on cereal, placing them on pancakes as they griddle, studding muffins with them or baking the occasional luscious pie. But they are stellar with just milk, cream, plain or slightly sweetened and whipped or sprinkled over vanilla ice cream. They shine in smoothies or in a parfait with granola and sweet yogurt, or when tossed with other fruits.

Try blueberry crisp or blueberry cobbler. Make blueberry buckles, grunts and slumps (the first a kind of streusel-topped cake, the second two both homey, stewy dumpling dishes). This week I’m going to get fancy and make a blueberry tart from A Feast of Fruits by Elizabeth Riely (Macmillan, 1993) with mascarpone cheese, orange zest and a walnut crust. Although the wild ones are said to be better for baking than the cultivated – spicier flavor, rugged skins and tiny denseness – you can give the tame ones a little faux-wild edge by adding citrus zest to the recipe.

July is my favorite of the 12 months because it starts and ends warm, and for me, blueberries are July. They do well in the Northeast, with our rain and cooler temperatures and acid soil. As Riely says, “[For New Englanders] this berry remains the quintessential fruit of high summer.”

Excuse me, but I have to run out and pick some berries. Now.

For more information on local U-Pick blueberries, contact Kelder’s Farm (Kerhonkson) at www.kelderfarm.com or (845) 626-7137, Fishkill Farms (Hopewell Junction) at www.fishkillfarms.com or (845) 897-4377, Secor Farm (LaGrange) at www.facebook.com/secorfarm or (845)-452-6883, Greig Farm (Upper Red Hook), www.greigfarm.com or (845) 758-1234, Samascott Orchards (Kinderhook) at www.samascott.com or (518) 758-7224 or Thompson-Finch Farm (Ancram) at https://www.thompsonfinch.com or (518) 329-7578.

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