A Pickin’ and A Grinin’ Pacific Northwest Style

During our recent visit to the greater Portland, Oregon area we had the opportunity to go blueberry picking.  It was in our favor that the Western states experienced a very cool spring and late start to the growing season because typically Northwest blueberries would be on strong in July but this year early/mid August was prime picking season.

I LOVE to pick blueberries in the Portland area and remember my first time heading out to Sauvie Island with my oldest daughter who was just 1 1/2 years old, Karen (Garden Gal from San Francisco) and her 1 1/2 year old daughter to forage the blueberries.  I can still remember the little girls’ excitement as they toddled about pointing out “boo”berries and the lovely blue-purple juice that stained their faces and clothes as they discovered they could stuff these tasty things into their mouths instead of their tiny pails.

About 10 years has passed since that first excursion but I’ve continued to enjoy this experience…now with both of my daughters. Even though it is no longer as simple as hopping in the car for a short drive to the island, I manage to get to the Portland area around blueberry season most years.

Last year I took my girls to Sauvie Island and we had a good time picking berries of all types- raspberries, marionberries and blueberries. After a few hours we felt we had a lot (I think we ended up with about 20 lbs) and headed back to the city.

THIS YEAR through a connection of my mother-in-law’s we had the opportunity to visit a berry farm outside of Portland, near Amity, Oregon located in the famous Pinot Noir wine region.  This berry farm DID NOT disappoint.  It was gorgeous  with over 450 acres planted in blueberries of different varieties. In other words in was blueberry heaven!  I have never seen so many blueberry bushes and never, ever so many berries on a single bush.  I have also never seen berries of such size and flavor!

This is an organic farm and one of its “best practices” is that all visitors must wash/clean their hands before picking so we quickly took care of that and began to organize our containers. Now in the past when using buckets for picking I have just held on to them via the handle or set them on the ground while slowly and deliberately picking the berries.  But this time, my mother-in-law clued us in on the way “real pickers” get the berries.

We were to wear belts and strap the bucket handles on to our belts so that we could use both hands, particularly two thumbs to quickly and gently pull the berries from the stems and have them plop right into the bucket!  The simplicity and efficiency of this method is ingenious and there’s the added benefit of less waste meaning that not as many berries hit the ground (lost in the grass or undergrowth) when they sometimes come off in twos and threes.  Instead they just fall into the bucket.

We all talked a bit and enjoyed the wonderful morning and amazing bounty of the farm.  Time flew by as both of my girls could not get over how fast they could fill their buckets.  After about an hour we decided to take a break and check our allotment.  To my surprise, all of our containers were full except the one I was carrying which was about half full.  Wow!  This was certainly  a lot of berries, way more than last year so I decided we better stop. I still had to find a way to fit them into a cooler and then our car for the drive back to Boise.

The rest of the day we laughed about all the berries we had picked so quickly and about how I was going to keep them frozen for a few days while visiting different sets of friends and family in the city before our departure.  I simply decided I was going to have to put a call out to see who could store 50 POUNDS (discovered after we weighed them for payment) of blueberries in their freezer for a few days.

Of course this number was alarming to many.  I think some friends thought I was going to show up with a huge wood palate (like the kind you see at Home Depot) loaded with blueberries! Luckily, 50 lbs of blueberries, once packed in quart bags and frozen will fit into a very standard medium-size cooler.  Well almost, we had to leave a few bags at my in-laws!

But for the most part the berries are pretty easy to store because the bags can be stuffed into any little pocket of space.  Lucky for me, my great friends and former neighbors came to the rescue and provided the cold storage we needed.

Indeed there’s something special about Northwest blueberries and I think every visitor to the area that likes berries should experience the picking goodness.  It could be touted as a tourist “must-do” right alongside sampling the fabulous Pinot Noirs!  After all, it’s a great way to spend time with others, support local farmers and a seasonal industry and get your hands on some really beautiful, healthy food!

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