August 7, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Blues you can use

Blueberries are big in Maine right this moment. Festivals! Pick your own! Oh, and sweet treats!

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

For 31 years, Maureen and Erwin Bacon ran the North Woods Trading Post on the outskirts of Baxter State Park.

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Fore Street pastry chef Brant Dadaleares assembles a serving of his blueberry “crisp,” which features vanilla panna cotta, blueberry compote, almond crisp topping and a scoop of sweet corn ice cream.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Brant Dadaleares’ Maine summer blueberry “crisp” has quickly become the best-selling dessert at Fore Street in Portland.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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HERE ARE SOME southern Maine farms where you can pick your own high bush blueberries. It's always a good idea to call ahead to be sure they're open. Most places take cash only, or cash and checks only.


BLUEBERRY HILL FARM, 231 Blueberry Hill Farm, off Foxes Ridge Road. 457-1151;

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Bring your own containers.


CARD'S FRUIT FARM, 195 John Small Road. 353-4789

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily


ESTES FARM, 114 Waterman Road. 929-4801;

HOURS: Call or check the website.


PLEASANT VIEW BLUEBERRY FARM, 23 Blueberry Lane (second house on left on Pease Hill Road). 625-3719 or 447-5960;

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday


BERRY BEST FARM, 33 Colburn Way. 457-1435;

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday; closed Mondays


LIBBY & SON U-PICKS, 86 Sawyer Mountain Road. Follow u-pick signs off Route 11 in Limerick. 793-4749;

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, but sometimes they are closed a day or two for ripening. Call first, or check their "open status" page on the website.


PAYEUR'S PICK YOUR OWN BLUEBERRIES, Otis Allen Road, just off of Route 4 in South Sanford by the Country Club golf course. 324-3200

HOURS: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday


CRABTREE'S BLUEBERRIES, Route 107, 11/2 miles north of Town Hall. 787-2730;

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday


SPILLER FARM U-PICK, 85 Spiller Farm Lane. 985-2575;

HOURS: Days and hours vary. Call first.

When they decided to sell the store and retire to southern Maine, Maureen wanted to just retire. Her husband wanted to grow high bush blueberries.

They found a "spectacular" 13 acres in Cornish, which included five acres planted with 2,600 young blueberry bushes. Maureen, 68, loved the view of the White Mountains, but was still skeptical.

"But you know," she said on the phone last week, "right now I'm outside weeding, and I just love it."

It's just the second year the couple have opened their blueberry operation to the public. Last year, they opened for six days and customers quickly wiped them out. This year, they tripled their sales in the first two weeks they were open. Maureen Bacon thinks it's because word got around that they don't use pesticides or herbicides. "You can eat them right off the bush," she said.

And how is the crop this year?

"Our bushes have almost doubled in size since the last year, really," Bacon said. "I think with all the rain and the heat and the sun we've had this summer, they've just exploded. We have never once had to close this season due to ripening. We've got plenty of berries everywhere."

The story's the same at Libby & Son U-Picks in Limerick.

"The June cold, rainy weather did delay the crop a little bit, but right now all records show that we're ahead of every other year except for last year, so it's looking really good," said Aaron Libby. "We're anticipating a huge crop, and possibly our best ever."

Libby said his family has been planting more blueberries because they haven't been able to keep up with demand, which has been increasing steadily every year.

While blueberries have gotten some great press in recent years for their health benefits, Libby attributes the increased interest in pick-your-own berry operations to people "looking to do something with family and friends."

"Pick-your-own fruits is a very inexpensive when you look at activities to do, and you get to go home with great product," Libby said. "So instead of just spending money at the movies or the fair or something like that, you're spending usually less money, but you're going home with a great product. It's educational. Kids get to learn where food comes from."

It doesn't hurt that, at Libby's farm at least, along with the berries you get live music, kettle corn and blueberry doughnuts. (Last year was the best year ever at Libby's for those blueberry doughnuts, and yet sales are still up 13 percent this year.)

Here in southern Maine, we stuff our faces mostly with high bush blueberries, the plumper, sweeter cultivated cousin of the wild Maine blueberry that grows on the midcoast and Down East blueberry barrens.

Ninety-nine percent of Maine's wild blueberry crop ends up frozen, but here in Maine we're lucky enough to be able to buy them fresh from growers, roadside entrepreneurs and farmers markets.

They are a little more tart than cultivated berries, but they are great in muffins and other baked goods, and lots of people prefer them in pies. Their skins are chock full of good-for-you antioxidants.

Maine's wild blueberry crop reached 91.1 million pounds in 2012, up 14 percent from the year before. That was the second-largest crop on record.

This year's crop is, once again, looking "excellent," at least in the Down East region, according to David Yarborough, wild blueberry specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. The harvest in the midcoast area might not be as robust.

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Additional Photos

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Blueberry-stuffed french toast from chef Lisa Kostopoulos of The Good Table in Cape Elizabeth.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Blueberry sweet focaccia from Little Bigs, a new bakery in South Portland that is scheduled to open at 340 Main St. on Aug. 14.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer


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