Blueberry picking is a memorable family affair

ESCANABA – The gnarly jack pines make patches of shade. The sweet ferns perfume the air and the sandy soil is warmed in the late summer sun.

The sky is blue and the ground is too, dotted with dark and pale blueberries. Escanaba with its flat rock and sandy soil is prime blueberry country.

Even before the town grew up around Sand Point and Little Bay de Noc, people would come here to harvest the ripe blueberries. Blueberries were a very important food item to the Native Americans. They ate many of these super nutritious fruits. They gathered them in birch bark baskets. They cooked with them. They dried them and pounded them into (the dried meat and fat) pemmican snack bars that they made.

Anything this delicious, that ripens in the sweet scented breezes of August must certainly be a gift from heaven. Many of the Native Peoples had stories about the blueberries being a present from paradise. That is why you will notice a tiny star etched into the bottom of every single blue berry.

Not only did the Native Americans and early pioneers travel far to harvest these berries, wildlife came, too. The black bear’s nose can smell ripe blueberries miles away. Foxes will party all week long in the berry patch feasting on ripe blueberries. Little critters too, birds and chipmunks, pick away at the blueberries.

With all of this free, sweetness and unmatchable flavor under the wild wind-swept jack pines of Delta County, my family came to join in the party, too.

After the berries were depleted in the area between North Town and Wells (Bay Shore and the present day Bay College site) we piled in back of Dad’s old truck and headed to the Whitefish River or Stonington.

It was a picnic for us, too, just like the wild creatures. Blueberry picking was a family affair. Everyone went – Mom, Dad, teenagers, baby Lori, even Spot, the family dog.

We made games out of finding “inchers” what we thought was the biggest berry. We had contests to see who could pick the cleanest, with no green berries, sticks or leaves in his or her bucket.

Then came Mom’s awesome picnic lunch enjoyed in the shade of a jack pine tree.

When the canner was half full it was time to think about quitting. We often stopped for a swim on the way home somewhere along Little Bay de Noc.

Cleaning the blueberries and freezing them was the next big task. Not everyone enjoyed that part but fresh blueberry pie, hot out of the oven, was incentive enough to keep going.

Our grandparents were right about blueberries. They are so good for you. They are now considered to be one of the super foods with a high level of cancer-fighting antioxidants.

As people flock to farmer’s market’s and the produce isle, it’s nice to think about the domestic berry’s small wild cousin. Enjoy the tame and the wild blue berries if you can.

Wouldn’t it be grand to transform a part of Escanaba’s sandy shoreline back into the native jack pines and berry berries?

Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong resident of north Escanaba. Her folksy columns are published weekly in Lifestyles.