Tuesday, August 20, 2019
The Barrens in August
For the past few years, my husband & I have been spending some time in the area. We reserve an adorable cabin on the Machias River, (gas lights & cooking! I've done plenty of campfire cooking, and while I wouldn't rule it out in future, I do like my camping on easy mode.) The way passes through miles of blueberry barrens, the late-season red foliage of which gives the town of Cherryfield its name.
These are wild blueberries, the fruit small & intensely flavorful, which grow nowhere so well as the Downeast region of Maine. They are not to be confused with their high-bush cousins, the fat berries you see in the supermarket.
(Free opinion: it is a waste of good blueberries to put them in a pie, full of cornstarch & sugar. It renders them gloppy and the flavor insipid, and also turns your teeth purple.Pancakes, yes; muffin, yes; yogurt and salads and cream cheese, yes; by the handful YES PLEASE.)
The soil of the barrens is a highly acidic thin layer over ledge. It's called a "barrens" because not much except the very low-growing wild blueberries can thrive there. The proximity of the Atlantic keeps the air humid, which helps the shallow-rooted plants survive. The image above is in mid-August, during the picking season. The bushes that have not yet been harvested are heavy with fruit. I imagine this place before colonization, what a blessing this wild abundance must have been, and just below it, Wigwam Falls, popping with Atlantic Salmon, back in the day. (Atlantic Salmon are far rarer now, but there are groups working on their restoration - the Downeast Salmon Federation has a hatchery in East Machias where they raise salmon the the parr stage and then release them into Maine rivers - salmon return to their home rivers to spawn.)
Here's my favorite blueberry recipe:
3/4 cup wild Maine blueberries
1/2 banana, frozen
3/4 cup orange juice
Quick shake of nutmeg
Blend until smooth. Enjoy!