Blueberry Picking at Rocky Point Farm
One of my favorite books to read with my parents when I was little was Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal. The book’s blue ink drawings and endearing narration inspired dreams of losing myself in brambles of wild blueberries, spending evenings making jam with my mother, and perhaps encountering an amicable young bear cub. Though my family-filled summers often include wanderings on an idyllic hillside in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, it took until my 20th summer to journey into the world of blueberry picking.
On a recent hot summer evening, I drove with a friend down to Rocky Point Farm, nestled in a forested swath of Rocky Point in Warwick, Rhode Island. Rhonda Shumaker and Joe Gouveia purchased the farm six years ago as they entered retirement. It was, incidentally, Rhonda’s first time picking blueberries when they bought the farm.
The farm is a netted enclave set on 2½ acres with 2,400 blueberry bushes in six varieties. Pickers usually take home 11 to 13 tons of berries each summer season (that’s over four million blueberries!). And, starting at $2.75 per pound compared to $4.60 per pre-picked pound, blueberries at Rocky Point Farm are a deal.
On our way from the row of tightly parked cars along the road to the opening in the blueberry nets, we visited the farm’s small stand to retrieve our picking buckets and get the rundown from Rhonda. Beyond looking for the dark blue berries, she explained that we should avoid berries with any spots of red (unless we are looking for tarter berries) and instead seek those with dark blue rings where the stem meets the berry. She told us the ripe berries should come right off the stem and one way to efficiently test for ripeness is to “tickle” bunches of blueberries and catch those that fall off.
Confident we were equipped with all we needed to know about blueberry picking, we marched on to the bushes.
I’m just going to say it: blueberry picking is hard! I also tried strawberry picking for the first time this summer and found that I could have filled my picking crate three times over just walking maybe five feet down the strawberry patch.
Blueberries are different; blueberry picking is all about strategy. Admittedly, part of our strategy on that 95° day was to seek bushes that grew in the shade of large trees, but we were otherwise little more than aimless wanderers hoping that bushes sagging under the weight of bountiful berries would readily present themselves. We found small patches of plentiful dark blue, but it wasn’t until a woman emerged from the next row, appearing like a blueberry nymph, that our luck really turned.
Overhearing some of our complaints, our friendly spirit of the berries recommended that we focus our efforts on the “Berks” (Berkeley blueberries), which she explained tend to be a sweeter berry. She then pointed us to a nearby concentration of Berks and continued along the central path toward the exit. Not only were the Berks plentiful deep into the bushes and high above my five-foot, two-inch head, but their sweetness also encouraged more liberal picking since even slightly under-ripe berries made our taste buds sing. Ku-plink, ku-plank, ku-plunk—just like Blueberries for Sal—my bucket finally began to fill with berries. I tried to resist Sal’s habit of eating all the berries right out of the bucket, and so settled for alternating picking and snacking.
After over an hour of picking, we finally called it a night with five and eight pounds of berries respectively, amounts carefully noted by Rhonda on our new (joint) frequent picker card. With the sun setting and day cooling, we continued to munch on our spoils as we strolled back to the car, discussing plans for our large haul of berries.
Though most of my berries did wind up in either my stomach or the freezer for future snacking (Rhonda assured me that freezing typically enhances the flavor and nutrition of blueberries), I did save some for the kitchen.
Cooking with Blueberries
As soon as I returned home from Rocky Point Farm, I prepared a tray of frozen yogurt bark. This bark could not be easier to make and is a perfect cooling snack on a hot summer day.
When I visited my parents in the Berkshires the weekend after our picking event, my mother also requested a blueberry pie. Dutifully using the defrosted Pillsbury pie crust she had waiting in the refrigerator, I combined her bare-bones Blueberry Galette with a more pie-forward recipe from Food 52 for a slightly crunchy but still fruity filling for the pie. (See right for my adapted recipe: for a simple galette simply skip blind baking the crust and omit the crème fraiche and streusel).