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Friday, June 22, 2012

Blueberry Picking

July, 2011

Every Summer for the last seven years our family has trekked off to East Texas in search of fresh blueberries for picking.  We have found the best blueberries at Echo Springs Blueberry Farm in Brownsboro.  Located between Athens and Tyler, it is about a 2 hour drive from the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  Here is a picture of the pickings from 2011:
2011 was the first time I went with the rest of the family.  I had never been blueberry picking before, so I really was looking forward to the day.  It was a lot of fun, only we went in July, in the midst of the 100+ days of no rain in our part of the state.  Unfortunately most of the berries had been picked, and the heat made it a bit less comfortable than we wanted it to be.  The picture below of Bernard summarizes the day: hot and sweaty, with an empty bucket.

The folks at Echo Springs recommended that we come back the following year in June when the berries are at their biggest and juiciest.
Carolyn took some of the smaller children into the store when they got too hot.  Here she is with our youngest daughter ZelieLouisa.  Two of the beautiful women in my life. 
In this picture, Maximilian gets into the frame along with Bernard's forehead.  I just love to take pictures of Carolyn; she is so gorgeous!
We can't recall how many pounds of blueberries we picked last year.  Regardless, the ones we brought home were used for muffins and other delights from the Donahue kitchen.  We froze them in small plastic bags so we could pull out as much as we needed. 

June, 2012 

This year we took their advice and came in June.  We arrived around 2 p.m. rather than early in the morning as I had hoped we would.  I was on vacation, and so I was enjoying the rare day when I could just wake up whenever I wanted.  Our late arrival actually was providential, because a torrential rainstorm hit the farm that morning.  So when we arrived, the temperature was in the 70's and the clouds remained overhead for the whole time we were there.  Occasionally raindrops fell on us, and our clothes also got wet from reaching in to pick berries off of the wet bushes.  A cool breeze made it even more comfortable.  I don't think we could have had better weather for picking blueberries.

Here is Augustine, busy picking berries.  I have to say that it would be easier to get a picture of Sasquatch or the Yeti than to get some of my children to pose for a picture.  So if you get to wondering where the other children are, trust me.  All but Dominick(the oldest) were with us, and if they don't appear below it is because I could not get a good picture of them.
Thankfully Marcellinus, or 'Marc' as we commonly call him, was not camera shy.  Here he demonstrates his award-winning technique for picking berries. 
"Any questions?"
Benedict was diligently picking away and could not look up from his work. 

Jacinta not only looked at the camera; here she actually smiled for me. 

Bernadette showed her technique for picking as well.  With so many berries on the trees, we found the best way to pick them was to grab a cluster; the ripe fruit would separate easily and either fall into the hand or the bucket underneath.  The unripe fruit would resist the slight pressure needed, and would remain behind for someone else to pick at a later date.

Here I catch Cornelius and Maximilian at work.  Max is closer to me; Cornelius is on the other side of the line of bushes.  That black thing in the foreground is the dripline which runs along the bottom of each row.  I don't think I could have hidden my children's faces any better if I tried to.

Bernard is too young to be camera shy.  He actually did some picking this year, and then knocked over his bucket for reasons best known only to him.  He had a great time, especially when he took on a supervisory role and toured the grounds to check on his siblings and parents.  That is Carolyn's foot and dress.

ZeleiLouisa is not camera shy either.  Here she poses before getting back to picking blueberries. 

It may not be obvious from the picture from 2011, but the whole farm was greener and more lush than it was the year before.  That made for really good blueberry picking.
Here is a picture of either Maximilian, or Sasquatch, or a chupacabra.  You decide.  Something tells me that I doubt any of those mythical beasts would be collecting berries in a bucket.  More likely they would be storing them internally.

We didn't realize that the farm closed at 4:30 p.m., so we had to rush at the end.  Part of the experience of blueberry picking is to sample all of the jellies, soups, salsa, dips, and baked goods which are available in the gift shop/store.

So, in a little over two hours, we collected 70 pounds of blueberries!  That is 10 buckets full by 13 people - where the two youngest were 6 and 3 years old.  There were a lot of reasons why we were able to pick so much.  One is that there were a lot more berries on the bushes, and they were arranged together in clumps rather than individually, so each time we reached into the tree we got more than one berry.  Another reason is that the weather cooperated.  I know I would not have just stood there picking berries for as long as I did if it were hotter and more humid.  Most of all, though, is that our children are growing up, and have learned how to pick berries efficiently.  Carolyn pointed this out to me as we worked until 3 in the morning to put all the berries in the freezer.  The berries we picked had a lot fewer stems, leaves, unripe berries, and other waste which usually accompanies the picking of berries. 

I was very proud of the work the children did, and I look forward to a year full of muffins, pancakes, and whatever else can be complemented by the addition of blueberries.

By the way, this is almost what 70 pounds of blueberries look like.  They were still packing them when I took this picture.

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