Last weekend, I took a drive to the Indiana/Michigan border along the southern tip of Lake Michigan in search of blueberries. This is serious fruit country. In addition to 15 pounds of blueberries, I picked up a few tips.
- Call ahead – Make sure the farm you plan to visit has blueberries (or whatever fruit you're looking for) available for picking. If you call multiple farms, you can also compare prices.
- Protect yourself – You're going to be standing out in the sun for a few hours, so bring water and wear a hat, plenty of sunscreen and clothes that you don't mind getting a little stained with blueberry juice.
- BYOB – Bring your own bucket. Most farms will provide buckets for picking, but you'll want your own for transporting your berries home. It's also handy to have a smaller bucket for picking and a larger bucket to empty it into when it gets too heavy.
- BYOB2 – Bring your own belt. This advice came from my mom, and not having picked blueberries since I was very young, I thought it sounded a little strange. As I should have known, it was very good advice. Attaching your picking bucket to your belt keeps it in a convenient spot and lets you easily pick with both hands. Some farms will provide rope for this same purpose, but I think a belt is probably a little more comfortable.
- Stay put – Find a bush with plenty of ripe berries and stick with it until you've picked it clean. You'll save more energy for picking if you're not moving around a lot, and you'll leave other bushes in better condition for your fellow pickers.
- Get in there – Don't just pick the berries from the very front of the bush. I found the best clusters of plump, ripe berries on the undersides of branches.
- Be gentle – I found the best way to pick the berries was to roll the berries between my thumb and the palm of my hand, and the ripe ones would easily fall off.
- Ask about "jam berries" – The farm I visited offered a discount on already picked berries that were just beginning to go soft, but were still in good condition for perserves and baked goods. I bought 5 pounds of jam berries, and honestly, I could barely tell the difference between those and the ones I'd just picked.
Related: Blueberry Lavender Cream Pie
(Images: Joanna Miller)