It’s blueberry season again and if you haven’t already indulged at home, there’s still time to stain your hands and face out on the road. The high bush blueberry plant is native to North America but you’d be surprised by just how many varieties are out there and all the different places they grow. You might also be surprised to learn that in the United States, there are over 40 blueberry festivals per year. Picking the top ten poses a challenge (sorry, Indiana) but you can’t go wrong with any of the following:
Maine Wild blueberry plants carpet much of Maine’s rocky terrain with reddish leaves and tiny, nibbly fruit that locals use in just about everything. Basically, you can’t go to Maine and not eat wild blueberries because you will be standing on them. Before you go, make sure to reread the classic Blueberries for Sal, inspired by the islands of downeast Maine.
Iceland Technically, Bláber are bilberries (not blueberries), but try telling an Icelander that the blue-colored berries that grow wild all over their country (and called blue-berries) are not blueberries. They’ll respond by informing you that Icelanders were calling them blueberries 500 years before America and it’s other brand of blueberries were discovered. Icelandic blueberries are small and very sweet, ranging from dark purple to indigo in color. Blueberry season runs from August to early September. Be sure and sample the traditional blueberry soup (the best bowl I ate was at the one and only restaurant in Suðureyri, West Fjords).
Québec Blueberries reign supreme in the the Saguenay-Lac St. Jean region of northern Québec. So much so that the local go by the nickname “Bleuets” (Blueberries) and blueberry pie is a mainstay on every menu in every town. What’s more, village bars brew their own blueberry beer, blueberry sauce is a common condiment and gas stations sell little packets of homemade chocolate-covered blueberries. Serious cyclists can even ride the 256 km “blueberry circuit“, a fantastic bike trail (with it’s own paved bike lanes) that weaves through the heart of Canada’s blueberry country.
New Jersey If you’re American and ate blueberries this week, chances are they came from Jersey. The Garden State grows more blueberries than anywhere else in the world. Jersey fruit are known for being plump, juicy and almost cartoonishly perfect, which is why we love them so. Next time you’re dreading the drive, why not drop away from the madness of the Turnpike and go pick your own? It’s easy, given the number of blueberry patches and farms, like this one. Nova Scotia The Canadian version of Maine is home to the Wild Blueberry Fest (which is on right now) and grows a significant amount for commercial consumption.
East Texas Why do I say “East Texas” instead of just plain Texas? Because East Texas is a state unto itself, with it’s own accent and culture and agriculture, of which blueberries are a big deal. Texas blueberry season runs earlier, from mid-May through July, and locals love picking their own by the gallon and freezing them for the rest of the year. Echo Springs Blueberries (outside of Tyler) is just one of dozens of pick-your-own plantations.
Michigan Home to the National Blueberry Festival, Michigan thinks it invented the blueberry. Just play along, enjoy the fruit and watch the festival parade that marches down the street in South Haven. You know they take the berry seriously when one of their largest farms is called Rambo blueberries. Michigan is also another great state to go and pick your own.
South Korea Who would have thunk it, right? But in all of Asia, it’s the Koreans that are blue for blueberries. Victims of aggressive agro-marketing, Koreans are convinced blueberries will grant them the health and longevity of their American friends. That’s why you’ll see Koreans mashing blueberries into rice cakes and using them in all kinds of strange ways at the Korean blueberry festival.
Poland You can’t be a real blueberry connoisseur until you’ve tasted blueberry pierogi (served with cream). They’re heavenly. Poland grows an abundance of blueberries that supply the rest of Europe with their anti-oxidants. Check out the country’s biggest farms or merely travel there in the summer when blueberries are just about everywhere.
Alaska The state that’s really a country loves blueberries so much they want to marry it. Arctic Americans boast their own native plant, the Alaskan blueberry (Vaccinium alaskaense) which is quite tasty and fairly unique-looking. Try catching the Ketchikan Blueberry Festival in August or go pick your own right outside Anchorage.