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Print

Blueberry pickers in Wis. see early success

July 08, 2010 at 09:04 PM

Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire

IRON RIVER, Wis. (AP) - Sweet fern and small popple trees were encroaching on the edges of Evie Berge’s wild blueberry patch, but she wasn’t worried. She’s been picking in this patch near Iron River in far northern Wisconsin for years, she said, and the blueberries always come back.

Last year the berries were small, the result of a prolonged drought in the northern part of the state. This year they are bigger, probably the result of Mother Nature trying to compensate for several years of below-average precipitation.

The area rivers have been at flood stage, and blueberries are thriving. They’re still not as large as the cultivated varieties found in stores, but berry pickers maintain that wild blueberries make up in flavor what they lack in size.

The berries are at least a week early this year, Evie said, the result of an early spring.

Productive wild blueberry patches are prized and, as with favorite fishing holes and grouse hunting s pots, their locations are not divulged casually. However, Evie was nice enough to share her favorite patch with a novice picker.

The berries usually grow in openings in the Jack pine trees.

“There’s lots of places to find them, once you know what to look for,” Evie said.

There is plenty of public land around Iron River with both jackpines and blueberries, said Dick Berge, Evie’s spouse and sometimes berry picking companion. Recently, she started picking around 9 a.m. - late enough for the dew to burn off the foliage but still early enough that the morning wasn’t too warm.

She wore practical clothing: a hat with a wide brim for sun protection, loose-fitting long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt for protection from the sun, bugs and brush.

Poison ivy mingled with the blueberries at the fringes of Evie’s patch, so the long pants were a good idea.

Evie also wore knee pads; it’s less tiring to kneel than to bend over, she explained.

Evie i s meticulous about picking only the ripe berries, while Dick is more prone to harvest some green berries along with blue ones. Green berries have vitamins too, he noted, and quality control - removing twigs and such - can be more easily done back in the kitchen.

Because this is the beginning of the blueberry season, there were more green berries than ripe ones to pick, so some selectivity was involved.

Typically Evie spends about an hour to pick one pint of blueberries. That’s the amount she uses to make a blueberry pie.

Evie typically picks for about an hour at a time, often at a leisurely pace.

There is no rush. Wild blueberries will continue to ripen through July, and last year Evie continued picking into late August.

The blueberries on this day were used to make blueberry pancakes the following morning. They added a touch of tartness not found in pancakes made with the larger, cultivated berries.

Berge then used two pints of her berrie s to make two blueberry pies, which were served the following evening to family members and friends, making for a tasty way to enjoy the summer.

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