I had the pleasure of spending Wednesday through Saturday of last week up in Maine with the Wild Blueberry Association of North America.
Joining me on the trip were fellow dietitians and nutrition bloggers/writers, as well as a number of staff from the Wild Blueberry Association and its PR firm. It was a really great group – I loved chatting with everyone throughout the trip!
Writers/RDs in attendance:
- Liz Weiss – Meal Makeover Moms
- Carolyn O’Neil – O’Neil on Eating
- Susan Irby – The Bikini Chef
- Carolyn Tesini – contributing editor with Eating Well Magazine
- Mary Pols – Portland Press Herald
We spent our time in Maine learning all about wild blueberries. Wild blueberries like cool, wet weather, so they stick to the north; the only places where wild blueberries are harvested commercially are Maine, Eastern Canada, and Quebec. Maine is actually the largest producer of wild blueberries in the world! Wild blueberries as far as the eyes can see. 🙂
Wild blueberries occur naturally in barrens and fields that have been around for 10,000 years, so they are very well adapted to the cold, harsh winters. We learned that all the snow actually acts as a blanket for the wild blueberry bushes, which are very low to the ground for a reason!
Wild blueberries are grown on 60,000 acres in Maine, and six companies operate processing plants that freeze and can the berries; one company also distributes fresh wild blueberries. 99% of the crop is frozen – this is because wild blueberries naturally have less tough skin, so they are harder to transport fresh than regular blueberries. We weren’t allowed to take any photographs inside the processing plant we toured (Wyman’s of Maine – the brand that I buy at Whole Foods!), but it was really interesting to see how they are cleaned and flash frozen within 24 hours of being picked at peak ripeness.
Most wild blueberry fields are pruned to the ground every other year, and in the growing season immediately following the pruning, the vegetative and formative growth take place. In May of the following year the plants bloom, are cross pollinated (yay bees!), and will then develop berries, which ripen in late July to early August.
Once ripe, lowbush blueberries are harvested by a combination of hand-raking and mechanical raking; mechanical raking is used on about 80% of the fields in Maine, with hand-raking used in rocky or hilly areas that are too complex to mechanically rake.
We learned how to rake the blueberries by hand and I have a lot of respect for the blueberry rakers – it’s really hard work!
We also learned quite a bit about the differences between wild and regular blueberries on the trip. Did you know that wild blueberries have two times the antioxidants and fiber of regular blueberries? The reason for more fiber is due to the higher skin-to-pulp ratio than their larger cultivated counterparts. As for the antioxidants, they have a higher concentration of the flavonoid anthocyanin, a phytochemical found in blue-pigmented fruit.
They are much more flavorful, too! I made sure to confirm this fact myself… 🙂
On the pest management front, since wild blueberries thrive in glacial soils and harsh climates, you have the added benefit of decreased insects and pests compared to regular blueberries in warmer climates. Also, since wild blueberries are harvested every other year, this helps to break the pest cycles as well.
Aside from all the wild blueberry talk, we were also able to enjoy beautiful Bar Harbor, Maine. The Wild Blueberry Association put us up at the Bar Harbor Inn, a really cute place that had amazing views of the water.
I got in two nice runs along the waterfront path in front of the inn. Stunning!
On the food front, one of the nights we were treated to dinner at Havana, which was fabulous – great food and super cute place. I didn’t get any photos since the lighting was dim, but highly recommend it! Also, Martha Stewart was at the next table – apparently she has a home in the area?! So cool!
Another night, we took a ferry over to Cranberry Island for dinner at a cute lobster place on the dock.
We started with some yummy salads…
Then it was down to business.
Wild blueberry crisp for dessert. 🙂
Also, guess who walked in while we were eating our salads? MARTHA STEWART! Again! Jeez, Martha, quit stalking us already! 😉 What a weird coincidence!
On my last morning, before heading to the airport, I got up for another run…
I enjoyed a feta, olive, tomato, avocado, and spinach omelette with some tasty homemade oatmeal bread, fresh jam, and fruit. Plus great conversation. 🙂
A big thank you to the Wild Blueberry Association for inviting me on their press trip and covering my expenses! It was so fun to see the barrens in person, and I had a great time with the group, too. 🙂
I got back in DC on Saturday early afternoon and spent the rest of the weekend enjoying being home with Matt and getting caught back up on life! Lots to do this week. Better get back to it!
Have you ever eaten a wild blueberry?
What’s the coolest celeb sighting you’ve had?