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Blueberries for all, not just Sal

by Becky Harvey

Blueberry buckle, blueberry pancakes, blueberry muffins, blueberry scones…. blueberries by the handful! No matter how you eat them, freshly picked blueberries are a sweet summer treat in which anyone in our area can indulge during the hot summer month of July. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been obsessed with blueberry-picking time. It all started with my favorite book of my childhood, Blueberries for Sal, in which a mom and her daughter encounter a momma-bear and her cub while picking blueberries on the side of a mountain. It all turns out fine, but it isn’t something that the average family wants to put themselves through while out combing the mountainside in search of those sumptuous little blue treats.

Luckily, for those of us located along the towns of the Route 395 corridor in south-central Massachusetts, we’ve got a boat-load of orchards that cater to those of us with dreams of mounds of the little blue fruit- whether those mounds are eaten plain, covered in whipped cream, or baked into a confectionery treat. And if you are unable, as I am to grow enough blueberries at home to fill a pancake, it’s time to visit one and come home with buckets of yumminess.

Charlton Orchards Farm is one of the places that offers pick-your own berries. They’ve been in business for years, and their well established fields of bushes are primed, ripe and ready to fill the pails of happy pickers. In addition to being open to pickers, they have pre-picked, but fresh-off-the-bush berries by the pint in their little shop. July fourth was the first day for picking and the farm is open for the season Wednesday – Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. They are closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The grown-ups in your group may want to visit the Obadiah McIntyre Farm Winery for some custom-crafted blueberry wine or any of their other fine assorted wines. They are located at 44 Old Worcester Road in Charlton (Rt. 20).

Just a quick drive down the road is Fay Mountain Farm. After a devastating loss of their cherry crop due to a hail storm this year, the farm is excited about a “better than ever” blueberry crop. They are open Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. They opened their doors again in June this year with a bumper crop of rhubarb, asparagus and a wide variety of goodies. They carry local honey and a variety of veggies, fresh picked, all summer long. Check their facebook page for blueberry picking information.

Moving on down into Connecticut territory is Woodstock Orchards located at 494 Route 169. I had the pleasure of visiting this farm and getting a tour of their grounds. It is immense and immaculately run and wow! They offer a great experience to the pick-your-own customer. Currently, they are planning to open up the blueberry pick in mid-July on the 22nd. With four different varieties: Blue Crop, Berkeley, Blue Ray and Coville, there should be variety enough for anyone. The farm stand at Woodstock Orchards is always full of the most amazing fruits and vegetables. They have a website that is great. It lists everything they carry, along with recipes to make awesome dishes with their great produce. Just some of the things they carry are: Apples, Peaches, Northeast Connecticut's Finest Hardy Mums, Tomatoes, Peppers, Squash, Garlic, Sweet Corn, Eggplant, Jams & Jellies,Honey and Maple Syrup, and so much more.

Another Woodstock gem is High Springs Orchard of 47 Dividend Road, just minutes off of Route 169. Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. they boast a “Family run, family fun, family atmosphere.” They not only offer pick-your-own blueberries, but also peaches, later in the season, and of course, apples. They’ve got a fantastic little shop in the quaintest, red barn. It’s amazing all the things they carry, from mouth-watering crystallized raw honey to pure maple syrup, farm-fresh eggs and even gluten-free soups and baking products. Not in the mood for food? They also have a great selection of primitive crafts, candles and hand-made quilted products. Blueberry picking will start around July 20 with picking hours from 9:00 a.m. to noon and 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Woodstock isn’t the only town to get into the pick-your-own game in Northern Connecticut. Fort Hill Farms at 260 Quaddick Road in Thompson is an amazing place to take the family. But be sure to plan to spend a good amount of time if you’re bringing the kids. There is so much to do. In addition to the blueberry picking that can be done, there’s a “Discovery Barn” where kids and parents can meet the farm animals. There is also a mining for gems experience that no kids (of any age) should miss. And there is a creamery where folks can sit and relax a creamy, smooth and decadent scoop of the freshest ice cream, made there, on site. (They even have a loyalty club: for every 12 scoops, get one free. It’s so good that it won’t take long to rack up your free scoop!) For those who’d rather drink their way to heaven, the creamery offers “seasonal” drinks and coffees. The visit isn’t complete without entering the Quintessential Gardens. "The land here has been farmed for more than 300 years. Pick blueberries, wander through more than 70 display gardens, or take a class in medicinal herbs. But the highlight is a trio of soul-soothing labyrinths created with more than 1,500 lavender plants."

Perhaps the highlight of Fort Hill Farm’s blueberry picking season is the “Ice Cream and Bluegrass Bash” on July 20 from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. This yearly tradition is “a toe-tapping, foot-stomping party to celebrate the blueberry harvest and National Ice Cream Day.” It features live bluegrass bands for hoedown style fun. Visitors can tour the gardens, take a wagon ride around the fields and meet the farm’s livestock that keeps everyone in that sumptuous ice cream which the day celebrates. “You will see first-hand, how we are working to save Connecticut farmland and sustain farming as a way of life.” Blueberry PYO  is by appointment only, call 860-923-3439.

And rounding out the list of local pick-your-own farms is Buell's Orchard at 108 Crystal Pond Road in Eastford. I had the pleasure of meeting with one of the farm’s owners and was told that Buell’s hopes that people will take the ride out because their goal is to let kids be kids and let families have fun. Currently picking strawberries, the blueberry pick is just about upon us. From mid-to-late July is when the little blue treasures will be ready. Call 860-974-1150 to check on times. And at Buell, the pick-your-own pear schedule isn’t too much later. Dubbed “The best kept secret in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut,” Buell's Orchard is a great trip and worth the ride. July and August hours are Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. But you’ll probably want to check their website come September because after blueberry season comes apple season and Buell’s apples are definitely worth the drive.

So remember to set aside a day sometime mid-to-late month, or two, or three to take a break and have some fun at one of the many great, local pick-your-owns. You’ll leave with great memories and buckets of juicy, sweet blueberries. And unlike in my favorite childhood book, you won’t have to worry about sharing your goodies with bears! Enjoy, and remember to put on your sunscreen.