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BERRY BLISS U-plant, u-pick, u-enjoy!

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Recipes Featured In This Article

Savour the flavours of summer’s beautiful bounty

Lush with berries, summertime on the East Coast yields bountiful opportunities to seek new adventures, try new recipes, or plant new seedlings. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries (both cultivated and wild) abound throughout the region. Sweet, delicious, nutritious: edible gems worthy of celebration.

Just getting your berries can be an experience. Perhaps a family outing for picking followed by a picnic lunch. Maybe an early morning visit to the local farmers market, or a Saturday afternoon community supper with strawberry short cake or fresh blueberry pie. Hikers might serendipitously find berries along their way. And for those able to put their hands in some soil, there’s the possibility of planting.

Sheldon and Donalda Wheatley, owners of Wheatley’s Raspberries in Dunstaffnage, P.E.I., have been farming for over 40 years and offer advice for picking the best fruit. “Some mornings it is best to start a little later to allow the dew to dry off the plants,” says Donalda. Extra moisture on the berries can lead to mildew. 

Jacob and Keeley Davidson of Pictou, N.S. get ready to dive into a bowl of Blueberry Grunt. Photo: Steve Smith, VisionFire

It’s also best to avoid picking berries around midday. Berries absorb warmth from the sun and collecting them into a container can cause a build up of heat leading to spoilage. Store berries in a cool dry place.

“Ripe berries should be easily pulled from the branch. For raspberries, ripe berries range from reddish-orange to almost scarlet in colour depending on the variety,” adds Donalda.

More than 60 u-picks on the East Coast welcome patrons to their strawberry patches each summer, including Curtis and Ann Millen of Millen Farms in Great Village, N.S. “My husband has been growing berries since he was fourteen,” says Ann. “It’s labour intensive,” she says, referring to the challenge of finding enough help. It’s one of the biggest struggles they face. “That and Mother Nature, but we can’t control her.”

The Millens have extended their season by adding new varieties. Originally, they had June-bearing plants, which are set one year and harvested the next. They now include day-neutral varieties in raised beds with irrigation that yield fruit the first year. From mid-June through to the first frost, they have strawberries.

The New Brunswick agriculture department provides seasonal online updates for crops including small fruit like strawberries, raspberries, and wild blueberries. Changes in weather affect vegetation. An untimely frost in June, after blossoms have appeared, can damage open flowers reducing pollination. Lack of rain during the growing season can lead to stress and smaller berries. Too much rain later in the year can interfere with harvest. 

Humans aren’t the only ones who like berries. Birds like these little morsels and can devour a crop quickly. Some pesky feathered critters even take a single bite from each berry leaving a half-eaten mess for gardeners. Discourage them from eating yours by using reflective devices like pinwheels or old CDs hung on string. In larger patches, a scarecrow can stand guard. Decoy owls or fake snakes can also scare off birds. 

The East Coast usually enjoys a bumper crop of events celebrating the harvest of berries (prior to cancellations or modifications due to Covid-19). When you combine the little town of Brigus, N.L., with the tiny blue beauty known as the wild blueberry, you end up with an event of mega proportions. 

Charming, historic, and picturesque, Brigus, with just 750 year-round residents, hosts an annual blueberry festival each August drawing as many as 12,000 visitors over four days. “We celebrated our 32nd year for the festival in 2019,” says Wayne Rose. (The pandemic cancelled the 2020 and 2021 events but organizers plan to be back in 2022.)

Once the home of a thriving blueberry processing plant, Brigus has been home to Rose his entire life. “I worked at the plant,” he says. “I remember them burning the fields in the spring and then truckloads of blueberries coming from all over to be processed.” The plant no longer handles blueberries but the people of Brigus still celebrate. They partake in tours, contests, games, dances, concerts, fireworks, and mouth-watering delights including blueberry cheesecake.

This year, with the lack of public gatherings, is the perfect time to celebrate at home. Turn a backyard potluck into an event for family and friends. Play some games, crank up the tunes, and create memories. Fill your belly and your soul, enjoying good food and good company while staying home. Set some of your favourite berries in the freezer for an hour and use them as colourful and tasty alternatives for ice in your glass.

When harvest time finally arrives, berries are delicious straight from the plant or tossed on your morning cereal. Sprinkling a few on your ice cream or whirling a handful into a smoothie are also scrumptious choices.

Strawberry shortcake, raspberry cordial, blackberry jelly, and blueberry grunt are East Coast staples, but what about other recipes? Chef Craig Flinn, cookbook author and owner of Halifax restaurant, 2 Doors Down, shares one of his own tasty creations.

Whether your fruit is hand-picked, store-bought, our home-grown, be sure to take the time to savour these “berrylicious” delights.

East Coast Living