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From Farm to Table: u-pick blueberries provide life lessons for kids!

One of the items on my summer bucket list this year was to take the kids berry picking. I grew up picking raspberries, saskatoons, and pin cherries in my backyard. The experience of picking and processing berries before eating them helps kids appreciate what they’re eating. Recently, we had a chance to visit a local blueberry u-pick. Here’s how that went, and what we did with our u-pick blueberries.

From Farm to Table: blueberries provide life lessons for kids!

U-pick Blueberries

If you’ve never been berry picking before, blueberries are a great place to start. They don’t have stickers or thorns (unlike raspberries and blackberries). Blueberries grow in clumps on bushes, rolling easily into your hand. And the bushes are usually at an easy height, somewhere between waist and shoulder high, so you don’t have to reach way up to get berries (and the kids can pick the lower branches).

We didn’t actually plan to go blueberry picking. We’d spent the weekend camping near Cultus Lake. However, the weather for the entire weekend was a bit grey and cloudy. On Saturday, we did a hike and then spent the afternoon at the Cultus Lake Adventure Park (which is fairly sheltered from the wind, so it was still fun). On Sunday morning, we packed up our tent and talked about what to do. It was windy but not rainy, but we didn’t feel like doing another hike. The water park and the beach seemed equally cold and dreary.

Then I saw a sign for u-pick blueberries. The girls were instantly in favour, and so we followed the signs out to Country’s Edge Blueberry Farm. We were the first pickers to show up. Our hostess passed out small buckets for the kids and bigger buckets for me, and led us out to the blueberry bushes. She showed us a row of bushes laden with berries.

A row of blueberry bushes at a u-pick farm near Cultus Lake, BC.

I set our buckets down and began picking. The girls started picking with me, and then began walking several steps between each handful of berries they picked. Soon, they were at the far end of the row, their excited chatter just barely drifting back to me on the wind.

Toddler in pink jacket picking berries.

A paper eagle flapped on a pole above me, scaring off any crows who’d also love to u-pick blueberries. Down among the blueberry bushes, I was sheltered from the wind. Fat, blue berries hung in bunches up and down the branches of the tree. I stayed at one bush, rolling the berries into my hand and listening to them plunk into the bucket.

Occasionally, one of the girls came running back to empty their bucket into my bigger bucket. Otherwise, the only sound was the wind as I concentrated on picking every single berry on the bush in front of me. It was peaceful and relaxing, a throwback to my own childhood spent (not-so-happily) dropping berries into buckets so that I could go play with my friends while Mom canned or froze my hard work.

Large bucket full of freshly-picked blueberries.

Joey had fallen asleep on the drive there, so my husband stayed in the van with him. He likely would have had fun running up and down the row and trying to help pick berries too, but it was nice not to have to pay attention to where he was (or to follow him up and down). I’d spent most of the weekend at the campground trying to get one of the older two girls to do “baby duty” and keep an eye on him, and then getting frustrated to see him off by himself.

Blueberries on a bush.

In half an hour, we’d filled both our large buckets (to nearly overflowing) and had a few more berries in a smaller bucket. Pearl was having so much fun she didn’t want to quit, but I figured that was enough berries for us (and enough naptime for Joey). We headed back to the hostess to weigh and pay for our u-pick blueberries. She provided us with two large boxes to take the 28 pounds of berries home.

Because of all our camping gear, I had to put the boxes on the floor beside the girls. Every time we stopped, I had to move the boxes so the girls could get in and out. That gave them a chance to grab a few handfuls of berries. Joey was all over this snack food, and kept asking for berries as we drove. They were sitting right beside him, just out of reach…

We managed to get home without spilling any berries (and without any visible dent in the number of berries, despite all the snacking!). I fit the boxes into the fridge to deal with the next day. Then, with Jade’s help, I went to work “preserving” all those berries, just like my mom used to…

Canning Blueberry Jam

We started by washing the u-pick blueberries. I filled the sink with cold water and dumped a box in. Jade helped me sift through the berries, taking out little stems, leaves, and crushed, green or overripe berries. She, Pearl and Joey continued to snack on the fresh berries.

Child washing fresh berries in a sink.

I made two batches of blueberry jam, one with liquid Bernardin pectin and one with powdered Bernardin pectin. (We made a run to the grocery store for pectin and I bought the last box there! Then I found another box in my home canning supplies from last year.) Jade helped measure and crush the berries for the jam.

I love canning berries because it’s so easy; no need to peel or pit the fruit! Just wash, crush, cook and can! I ended up with 17 jars of jam, all set and sealed!

Baking Blueberries

On the way home with our u-pick blueberries, I’d mentioned to the girls that we could make blueberry muffins. Jade immediately said, “And blueberry pie!” And so, in between washing, freezing and canning berries, I also made a pie crust and blueberry pie.

Blueberry pie is just as easy as blueberry jam. Just mix the fresh (or frozen) berries with some sugar, lemon juice and flour, and dump in a pie crust. I made my pie crust from scratch but pre-made works equally well for a quick summer dessert. Jade helped me mix the berries and the pie crust, and trimmed the pie crust after I put it in the pan.

Making blue berry pie - open pie with a rolling pin sitting nearby.

Ironically, when I served the pie for dessert after supper, she didn’t like it! I had to finish her piece. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of fresh blueberries myself but I enjoyed the pie. The kids prefer the fresh blueberries to the pie!

I also baked a triple batch of blueberry muffins. Pearl helped turn the mixer on and off for this. We ended up with 18 mini muffins and a dozen large muffins. The mini muffins disappeared just as quickly as the blueberries were… (I should have frozen more for easy-to-grab snacks!)

Toddler helping make muffins in a Bosch mixing machine.

Freezing and Drying Blueberries

Finally, most of the u-pick blueberries got frozen. This is, honestly, the easiest way to preserve berries. I could have dumped them into freezer bags and tossed them in the freezer. Instead, I decided to spread the berries on a cookie sheet and freeze them in batches. Then they rolled nicely into freezer bags. They aren’t “crushed” together in the freezer, and will be easy to pour into smoothies or measure for future blueberry muffins and pies.

I also tried drying some blueberries in the oven. I’m getting ready to hike the West Coast Trail with my cousin and two friends this fall. We’ve been chatting online about food and gear, and washing all the blueberries made me think about drying some for our trip. I looked up how to dry blueberries online. There was some mixed advice about drying blueberries.

I put honey on 6 cups of blueberries and spread them on a cookie sheet. I put them in the oven at 175*F and let them bake for about two days. I turned the oven off once when we out for a few hours, and off again overnight, but left the blueberries on the cookie sheet in the oven. Occasionally I checked and stirred them.

Six cups of blueberries dried down to about one and a half cups. They’re a bit sticky because I put honey on them, and the taste is intensified by the drying. I really like them, but the girls don’t (which is fine, as I made them for myself!).

And so that’s how we picked 28 pounds of blueberries, and what I did with them!

Have you ever gone for u-pick blueberries? What’s your favourite way to eat blueberries?

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