Have you experienced the radiant joy of picking plump, wild blueberries on a warm, bluesky day in northeastern Minnesota? Have you felt the pride of a bucket full of blueberries?
I remember my first summer in Ely. My new friend took me to her secret blueberry spot. She showed me how easy it is to identify the plant, and taught me that ripe berries are easy to pick – they require nothing more than a gentle tug. We moved around a vast expanse of land that had, not too long ago, experienced a low-intensity forest fire.
Indeed, it is now understood that for millennia, Indigenous people practiced low-intensity burns to support abundant blueberry growth (and healthy moose habitats). The Ojibwe word for blueberry is miin. Berry picking holds important social and cultural significance in Ojibwe culture.
In addition to being intensely flavorful and lovely to look at, blueberries are one of the most healthy fruits. Eating just ½ cup daily – that’s 42 calories – of blueberries will provide many health benefits.
Blueberries have plenty of fiber and vitamin C, as well as natural antioxidants. They have been credited with maintaining good vision, healing urinary tract infections, and lowering bad cholesterol. Consuming an abundance of blueberries has even been shown to improve memory!
It is estimated that wild blueberry plants appeared in Maine more than 10,000 years ago when
glaciers receded. Nowadays, the United States is the greatest manufacturer of blueberries in the world, producing about half of the world’s supply. More than 500 million pounds of blueberries are produced in the USA each year!
While blueberries are native to North America, particular varieties are more suited to one region or another. Among the species of blueberries, there are four main groups: lowbush, Northern highbush, Southern highbush, and rabbiteye.
My friend and I crouched with our backs to the sun, and spent hours collecting enough of our region’s wild lowbush blueberries to make a pie. Let me tell you what! There is nothing quite like a wild blueberry pie. Certainly a store-bought blueberry pie is tasty, but it can’t hold a candle to the other-worldly flavor of these potent jewels of the northland. It’s as if they captured the taste of the delicious, pristine waters of our Rainy River Watershed. It’s like they pulled the energy of the sun from the sky and wrapped all of its goodness into little lupine-colored sachets.
This year I hope to pick enough blueberries to make a batch of hand pies, a traditional pie, and either a blueberry crumble or a blueberry cobbler. But what’s the difference between a crumble and a cobbler?
A crumble is a baked dish of fruit filling with an oat-based sweet streusel topping, sometimes made with graham crackers, flour, and nuts, and held together with butter.
A cobbler is a deep-dish fruit dessert with individual biscuit dough dropped–or cake batter spread–on top before it's baked in an oven.
Which would you prefer: Pie, crumble, or cobbler? The best way to find out is to try them all 🫐
Join us in celebrating blueberry season and the Blueberry/Art Festival! Stop in to our Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness Headquarters on Friday or Saturday, July 29 and 30, from 1:00pm to 6:00pm for a free mini blueberry danish (while supplies last) and free Boundary Waters Connect stickers. Visitors will also have an opportunity to win prizes by playing blueberry trivia, as well as take home fun blueberry fact sheets and free kid-friendly activities.