To many in the region, the change of seasons may signify snowy weather in the winter or steamy days in the summer.
For those in the farming world, the change of seasons means new crops are ready for picking - pumpkins in the fall, strawberries in late spring and smack-dab in the middle of summer is time for blueberries.
Right now bushes in the region are loaded with ripe berries ready for picking at a fraction of the price you’ll pay for pre-picked berries or for cartons at the local grocery store shipped from various parts of the country.
Blueberries have a longer season than some other local fruits, (i.e. strawberries), with a season that spans several weeks. The season began at the start of July and extends into mid-August (perhaps even later this year), so there’s still plenty of time to get your fill of blueberries. They’ll also keep for up to a year in the freezer once picked. And if you need yet another reason to head out to the blueberry field, blueberries are also considered a “superfood” with the highest antioxidant capacity of all fresh fruit.
Dean Ott, who owns Stateline Blueberries in Michigan City with wife Diane, said that location plays a part in the quality of the crops in Northwest Indiana. “We’re in that Southeast corner of the lake. It’s a little cooler,” he said. “The weather has been a little more moderate.”
Ott said this year’s crop is the best he’s seen in the 15 years he’s owned the farm. “Two years ago there was too much rain,” he said. “Last year we couldn’t get enough rain.” This year has been just right.
And while small family-owned farms tend to be low-tech, Ott said this year the farm did an overhaul of the website and made it mobile compatible, adding a Google map to help visitors find the farm. “We’re getting as high tech as we can for blueberry farmers,” said Ott.
Barb Eenigenburg echoed Ott’s thoughts about this year’s bumper crop. She’s been in the blueberry business all her life, having been raised on a farm and then marrying another blueberry farmer. In fact, it was a match made in blueberry heaven - the two met when delivering their berries to a warehouse where fruit was purchased for a big Chicago market.
“We have an abundance of blueberries this year. After the last season with the freezing, the bushes seem stronger this year. As far as volume, this year we have the most and biggest, they just came in a little later, but it has extended the season,” she said about Eenigenburg's Blueberry Farm. “You can get a bucket and fill it at one bush. I’ve never seen the bushes this full.” And to say she’s never seen them this full is saying something, since she’s going back 45 years of working at the farm where she’s done everything from fertilizing to pruning to selling to leading customers out into the field.
Eenigenburg’s father-in-law, Ernie, bought the established farm in 1956 from a man named John Sauer who started it in 1943. It now has fourth generation family members working on the farm. A dozen varieties are available for picking, including the popular Jerseys, which are a large, sweet late-ripening variety.
Judy Ramirez of Hebron has been blueberry picking for years in the Ludington, Mich. area and decided to try out a local place. After seeing signs in Demotte, she signed up for e-mail updates from Eenigenburg and decided to try it. "The bushes were so heavily laden that the branches droop to the ground," she said. "We were so excited to realize we can get these very sweet, lovely blueberries - some very large, too - so close to home. We have a new favorite blueberry farm and will return at least once or twice before the blueberries are gone. We plan to stock our freezer with enough to last the whole winter."
Sally Lourwood of Lansing has gone picking with friends each summer for the last couple years at Stateline Blueberries. "You know you've found a good spot when you can stay in one spot and fill three buckets," she said.
Ott said many families use their farm as a focal point for a family gathering. We have groups that come from Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana and meet here and make a day of it. They'll barbecue in the picnic area." He said with their farm being just four miles from Lake Michigan, families often pair a visit with some time near the water. Eenigenburg's Farm also has a picnic area with some new canopies for shading.
Pricing at Stateline Blueberries is $1.85 if you pick your own and $3.25 for pre-picked berries with the box. Eenigenburg Blueberry Farm charges $1.70 a pound for U-Pick and $2.70 a pound for pre-picked. Both recommend calling ahead to purchase pre-picked berries as they go quickly.
Blue Sky Berry Farm in Wanatah is charging $11 a bucket if you pick your own and a bucket holds 5 to 6 pounds. Blueberries of Indiana also offers U-Pick at $1.75 per pound and $3.00 for pre-picked, when available. It is recommended that you call ahead for pre-picked berries.
Use blueberries in the following recipes.
Blueberry Lattice Pie
1 package refrigerated pie crusts
4 cups blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
DIRECTIONS: Roll out one sheet pie crust to flatten. Fit into a 9-inch pie dish. In a medium saucepan combine 1 cup of the blueberries, sugar, cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water. Bring to a boil; cook and stir until mixture is thickened and clear. Stir in butter; cool for 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining 3 cups blueberries and lemon peel. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Turn cooled filling into pie shell. Lay the remaining pie crust on a sheet of wax paper. Roll out to flatten. With a knife or pastry wheel, cut pastry into 3/8-inch wide strips. Arrange in a criss-cross pattern on top of blueberries, pressing ends into the edges of the bottom crust and crimping to seal. Place pie on a baking sheet. Bake in the bottom third of oven until crust is golden and filling bubbles gently, about 30 minutes. Cool on rack. Decorated Lattice Variation: Cut top crust into 3/4-inch wide strips. Set the two end strips and two short strips aside. Arrange remaining strips in a criss -cross pattern on top of blueberries. With the large end of a piping tip or a small knife, cut out 15 small circles and 12 small leaves . Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Place in clusters decoratively on the pastry lattice securing with a little milk. Bake as above.
Source: US Highbush Blueberry Council
Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie
2/3 cup of vanilla yogurt
2/3 cup of pomegranate juice
4 ice cubes
2/3 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
DIRECTIONS: Throw it all in the blender. Hit the ice crush setting first to break up the cubes, then move to a lower setting until well blended.
Source: Carrie Steinweg
Diane's Blueberry Banana Bread
Makes one loaf
1 1/2 cups blueberries
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 medium ripe bananas
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon cinnamon
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Use one Tablespoon of flour to coat the blueberries, set aside. In a large bowl, stir together the remaining flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, sugar and cinnamon. Mix throughly. In another bowl, combine the mashed bananas, milk, eggs and sour cream. Stir into dry indgredients, mix until well blended. Gently fold in the blueberries. Pour mixture into a greased and floured 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. Bake for about one hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes, remove loaf pan and place on a rack to cool completely.
Source: Diane Ott, Stateline Blueberries