One of my daughter’s favorite books is the beloved children’s classic Blueberries for Sal. The book, which received a Caldecott Honor award in 1949, tells the story of a little girl named Sal who goes blueberry picking with her mother on blueberry hill. During their trip, Sal wanders away from her mother and encounters a friendly bear, all while eating far more blueberries than she takes home. While the story is a bit dated, it’s managed to become a favorite in our nighttime storybook rotation.
Sal’s adventures reminded me of my own childhood trips to a “U-Pick” berry patch. Every summer, my mother loaded my sister and I into the car and made the drive to a strawberry farm where we wandered long rows of strawberry bushes to pick ripe, juicy berries by the pound. My sister and I usually emerged positively dripping with strawberry juice. Later that week, my mother always made strawberry jam to last us through the winter. The smell of berries cooking on the stove is a fond memory from my childhood.
Taking Lillian to a nearby u-pick blueberry farm seemed like the perfect way to replicate Sal’s adventures and my childhood memories. I did some research online to find a nearby farm that allowed people to pick their own berries (generally called a “u-pick”) and to figure out when the blueberry picking season would open (seasons typically last a few weeks depending on the weather). Then last weekend, we got up bright and early to visit Johnson’s Farm Produce, a u-pick berry farm in Hobart, Indiana. Though we live just 15 minutes from downtown Chicago, the drive to the farm took less than an hour.
Before leaving home, we told Lillian that we were going blueberry picking on blueberry hill just like Sal. She was so excited and insisted on bringing a little tin pail to put her berries in.
The blueberry bushes were absolutely bursting with enormous, juicy blueberries.
After less than an hour picking, my husband and I had collected over 11 pounds of blueberries. Lilly probably collected another pound but all but a few of hers went in her belly. 🙂
A few days later, I tried my hand at jam making and canning with delicious results.
Even if you’re not into canning, it’s incredibly easy to make homemade jam. You don’t need any special ingredients at all. The recipe I used didn’t even call for pectin or processed sugar. In fact, my jam has just three ingredients: blueberries, honey and lemon juice. You simply let the mixture bubble away on the stovetop for a bit (it smelled divine) and soon enough you’ll have thick, delicious blueberry jam. This simple jam is wonderful spread on toast or biscuits, used as a topping for blueberry pancakes or even as a simple snack on crackers.
Once the jam is cooked you can either wait for it to cool and pour it into airtight containers for refrigerating (up to a few weeks) or freezing (up to one year), or you can take the additional time to can the jam in shelf-stable jars. I went that route and my recipe is below.
If you’d like to plan your own berry picking adventure, here are a few tips:
- Do your research: Even if you live in an urban area, you may be within easy driving distance of a farm that allows you to pick your own produce. The best way to find one is to look online. Be sure to check for what days the farm will allow picking since produce seasons can be short and weather dependent (it’s always a good idea to phone ahead too).
- The early bird gets the berry: Plan to arrive as soon as possible in the morning to ensure the coolest weather and most plentiful fruit.
- Wear close-toed shoes, a hat and sunscreen: Depending on the weather, you might want to pack some bug spray and some cold drinks, as well.
- Cash is king: Many farms run their u-pick business out of the field so it might be cash-only. Come prepared.
- BYO Box: Farms will usually provide buckets or baskets for picking but will then transfer your haul to plastic bags before sending you home. If you’re driving a long distance, you might consider bringing some large plastic storage containers or even a small cooler to keep your berries safe in the car.
- For tips on jam making and canning in general, I recommend this helpful post from 100 Days of Real Food.