Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Blueberry Thrill

The women in my life have done a great job helping me indulge in a great pleasure—eating plump, sweet blueberries. I love ‘em.

My mother, an elegant lady who usually dressed as if for a special occasion whenever she left the house made an exception at the height of blueberry season in northern Wisconsin. She put on her field uniform. It consisted of high-top boots, a pair of well-worn coveralls, and a decrepit floppy hat. Thus attired, she went off to spend a long day picking as many blueberries as she could find.

When Mom got home, we enjoyed blue treats for weeks. The berries appeared as desserts, in muffins, over breakfast cereal, and best of all, in pies. The pies were heavenly. They inspired me to demand a blueberry pie instead of the traditional cake as the centerpiece of my birthday celebrations. I not only requested pie, I insisted on one to be eaten only by me!

Mom had no freezer when I was a little boy. She compensated by canning and otherwise preserving foods in wondrous ways. Because of her skills, blueberries were available in our household months after the picking season ended. I got my personal pie complete with candles on every birthday as far back as I can remember.

My addiction to the annual pie coupled with a reputation for conservative financial management (being a tightwad, some might say) led to a family story that survives to this day. On one of my birthdays, a favorite aunt, Dorothy, was visiting from Milwaukee. She begged for a piece of my pie. I very reluctantly agreed, but only after she agreed to pay me a dollar for a small slice.

Wife Sandy is a superb cook, but pies are one of the few things not in her repertoire. After we hooked up, she compensated for that by ferreting out stores that could provide a blueberry pie in mid-winter for my birthday. A couple of times, when no stores or bakeries had pies on their shelves, she was forced to substitute things like blueberry pop-tarts, but the tradition continued and we got some laughs out of the new varieties of pie.

Last year, our first in southwestern Michigan, son Lee’s fiancée Karen showed us one of the reasons agriculture is a leading industry in these parts. We are in blueberry heaven. Karen took us to a major blueberry farm only about 12 miles from our home. You could pick your own, as my Mom once did, but it was a lot easier to let a small army of green-card workers do that hard work. Sandy bought 30 pounds of Michigan’s finest. We celebrated with a round of blueberry ice cream cones.

Sandy split the haul into manageable quantities and froze the bags. Now, I’m enjoying the “perfect breakfast’ (see Dec. 6, 2006, post) seven days a week. I just thaw out a bunch of berries, top off some oatmeal with them, and love every delicious minute of getting started into a new day. If Sandy must buy pop-tarts for my birthday, she is forgiven.

As a native Badger, it is embarrassing to admit that southwestern Michigan blueberries are superior to northern Wisconsin blueberries, but they are. Some of the same soil, topography, and climate conditions that once made our newly adopted area the celery growing capital of the United States (Michigan still is number three behind California and Florida, which have much longer growing seasons) apparently are ideal for growing fantastic blueberries. We didn’t move here for the berries, but had I known how good they are, I might have.

Hey, Fats Domino. Where did you find Blueberry Hill?  I’ll bet it was right here.

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