Back woods blueberries

Carpenter knee pads for harvesting in the pucker brush: $19.99
Pre-made pie crust good enough to serve to your mother-in-law: $2.50 a box
Picking fresh while still having some of last year’s crop frozen: Priceless

After they blow off the road dust and grill us about our proximity to groceries, medicine and other things they wonder why we’ve left so far behind, folks take one look at our “front yard” and know why we re-rooted ourselves way the heck up here. By the time they reach the dock, they’ve had their “aha” moment, and our mountain-rimmed vast, open lake answers any lingering questions. Nonetheless, while friends from away think they know when they relax into the bench at the water’s edge, they still don’t really get it. They have no idea that a big piece of what lured my husband here—made him want to carve out a new life with me and the beagles—actually lies away from the lake and trout streams. For the whole picture, they need to stay awhile, share some dinner, some wine, and a little more wine. Then, and only then, will they be truly enlightened.

“Pie! Time for pie!” Tom proclaims as soon as possible after the last forkful of main course leaves his plate. And even though I’ve seen him do the dance many, many times, I never get tired of watching. Sheer pleasure transforms him as he goes through the motions of serving and sharing—of savoring his beloved blueberry pie. Then, sometime shortly after their first bite, guests come to fully understand. Back in the woods, tucked away from the postcard views and all the other Rangeley things worth waiting for in August, Tom has found a hidden wild Maine blueberry mother lode.

“Did ya pick your own?” guests want to know. Oh, yeah, most definitely…with so much love and gratitude, I think he actually leaves the patch more fruitful with his mindful
picking presence. Not long ago, he missed prime harvest time, having to head “home”
in time to teach school, leaving the best ever berries hanging. Labor Day weekend, we’d be back to celebrate his birthday, and we’d always bring his customary birthday pie. But it would be baked with berries supposedly from Maine, bought frozen in the grocery store. Tasty and better than no pie…but not fit for a true blueberry pie connoisseur. As a true connoisseur, you see, Tom doesn’t care so much about fudge cake or sundaes, crème brulee, or tiramisu. He shrugs off chocolate as “a girl thing.” Most days, he’d probably even pass on pie, in general. But pie made from his back woods blueberries—picked just about the time he’d be starting his back to school teacher meetings—now that’s a Tom thing…his personal slice of heaven.

Good thing for Tom that, in the giant scheme of things, Mother Nature ripens the berries right after the lake fishing slows down and before it picks up again in the streams. If, for whatever God forsaken reason, Tom had to choose between going fishing and eating wild blueberry pie, I imagine he’d spend a long, mournful moment going back and forth between the two choices. He’d look sort of like our beagle, Toby, the time he teased him by holding his walking leash in one hand and a hunk of steak in the other—hopelessly torn over which one he loved more. Tom would pick the pie, though, I’d bet my life on it. “I guess I’ve had enough fishing in my life,” he’d probably say, “but never enough  blueberry pie.”

I’m really grateful he can have both. And each time he temporarily puts down his fishing pole, hangs his old coffee can berry bucket over his neck with string and duct tape, and heads off to pick, in his mind I know he’s pleased by his own version of beer commercial perfection: “It just doesn’t get any better than this!

For years I dabbled with blueberry recipes. Being married to the ultimate blueberry boy, I figured I should be able to bake them in everything from cakes to muffins to bread. I should know if buckle was better than crumble, and hear first-hand why the real Maine cooks called a dessert blueberry grunt. But Tom has since assured me that pie, simple, old-fashioned pie with slightly sweetened berries piled as high as the pie plate will hold, is his ultimate favorite. So lately, I’ve given up on grunt and am content with hearing my husband’s soft sighs of delight. And those pre-made crusts in a box I keep stacked in the refrigerator right next to the berries…what a win-win situation for whipping out pie they are! Now that Pillsbury makes them without the telltale creases I used to try to press out
with my thumb, I can have a pie oven ready in about five minutes and never have to  admit I can’t make my mother-in-law’s crust “from scratch” recipe.

“What a nice, flaky crust,” she said the last time she ate pie with us. “Mine never comes out this good.” Luckily, Tom’s head was bent too close to his fork for us to share a knowing glance across the table or she might have guessed I cheated. His birthday fell after Labor Day weekend that year and we were celebrating it back in NH with a Down East feast of lobster and blueberry pie. “I’ll give your mother some to take home,” I said to him as we were cleaning up.

“Go ahead and give her that extra lobster,” he whispered when she went to get her coat. “She can make her own pie.”

With a an over-abundance of filling close at hand, Tom has since learned that manifesting blueberry abundance comes from sharing that abundance with others. He’s learned that hoarding might leave him with more for himself, but those extra coveted  pieces he’s hidden away from family and friends might also get pretty stale or, worse yet, covered with something not so naturally tasty. He’s learned to share. And I’ve learned that he’ll do just about anything to keep himself in pie. If I promise him some, he’ll tackle those bottom of the to-do list chores I either won’t or can’t do—which, in our house, involves anything requiring a ladder.

“Are you sure you don’t mind if I have a piece of your pie for breakfast, too?” Becky asked when she was home recently. The last wedge of Tom’s Father’s Day pie was waiting on the counter for him to indulge in at least two more days of his favorite ritual: eating blueberry pie for breakfast. Tom looked at his beloved daughter with beagle-like confusion for a long moment before deciding. “Sure honey,” he said, “you go right ahead.”

I stood at the stove, gazing way over the top of their heads to the living room window I hadn’t been able to reach since the remodeling. It still had film on it from the new window sticker and, I imagined, a couple inches of sawdust, regular dust and dead cabin flies on the sill. “It’s OK,” I assured my husband. “You don’t have to wait for a special day to have more pie. There’s plenty more where that came from.”

One thought on “Back woods blueberries

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.