Foraging in Minnesota: Blueberries

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Most Minnesota foragers—whether berry seekers or not—are familiar with blueberries. Our native blueberries are both abundant and widespread, popping up in varied habitats. While not every year is a good year, pickers of all ages can usually enjoy decent harvests of these flavorful, nutrient-packed treasures more often than not. 

Vaccinium, spp. 

As with our native plums, many or even most people don’t realize we have two species of blueberries. If you haven’t noticed, don’t feel bad about it. They seem to prefer similar habitats and occupy similar ranges in Minnesota. And as for the taste, well, let’s just say you’d have to be a sommelier to claim credibly you can tell them apart. The rest of us really don’t care when we’re eating our muffins or cobbler or whatever. 

Blueberries are closely related to many other desirable fruits, including huckleberry, cranberry, lingonberry, and bilberry. Unlike swamp-loving members of the Vaccinium genus like cranberries and some bilberries, however, blueberry bushes have a love for upland sites. The drier the better, and poor soils don’t bother them. In fact, the best picking places I know are on pure, loose sand. 

Minnesota blueberry foraging

Vaccinium angustifolium, called lowbush blueberry (at left in photo; click to enlarge), is probably what most of us picture in a blueberry. Branches with bright limey foliage, and berries with a pale blue powdery film that rubs off when we handle them. While fruit sizes between the two species are similar, the berries big enough to make your eyes bug out always seem to be from V. angustifolium

Vaccinium myrtilloides, called velvetleaf or Canadian blueberry (at right in photo), may appear similar to its brother. In my experience, its leaves have a duller, darker hue than angustifolium. Also, the appearance of darker berries is helpful in distinguishing the two. On that topic, the Minnesota Wildflowers website says, “…occasionally the coating is absent making the berries a dark bluish black.” 

Where I like to pick each year, myrtilloides is almost as abundant as angustifolium; perhaps a ratio of 40/60. Myrtilloides there seem not to have a powdery coating on the berries at all, and they appear nearly black when fully ripe (and feel downright hot to the touch in the full sun). 

While it is always great to make an accurate identification, I must say they sound identical when they hit the bottom of a plastic bucket. 

The Harvest

I’ve eaten blueberries in lots of parts of Minnesota, and one important thing I’ve found is that they love the sun. They may form a lush carpet under a stand of red or white pines, giving up a few berries here and there. But where that carpet meets an opening or even a road or trail, the break in the canopy usually translates into a greater density of berries.

My favorite place to pick is in east central Minnesota, on a sandy site that appears to have been logged almost 10 years ago. It was planted into red and jack pines, which are now getting taller than me. The blueberry bushes are thick there in places. Because they enjoy nearly full sun, the berries are off the charts. You can sit in one place and pick cups upon cups. This year, my wife and kids and I picked almost five pounds in our brief visit. 

No, I will not tell you where this is. However, any site south of Canada that fits this description will likely yield similar results. 

Wondering what to do with your berries? Here are some things we routinely do with ours:

Blueberries and granola in plain yogurt sweetened with honey. Great for the first week or so after picking. Just snatch some out of the fridge for a quick breakfast. 

Blueberry muffins, pie

Mixed berry pies and jams. Blueberries are tasty enough by themselves, but I’ve come to believe they are best when combined with others like blackberries, raspberries, and juneberries. We’ve been told more than once that our mixed berry jams are “…the best homemade jam I’ve ever had”

Blueberry muffins. We’ve found it convenient to wash and freeze several small bags with one cup of berries in each. Just find a recipe that calls for 1 cup of blueberries, of which there are many on the web, and have at it. (1 cup is also the perfect amount for a batch of blueberry pancakes, by the way)

I’d love to hear what you do with your blueberries. Leave a comment below!

~

If you’re interested in learning about more foraged foods, please visit the What to Forage page.

Making the most of the foraging harvest

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Well, the foraging season is behind us now and it’s safe to say this one was far from overwhelming. Each is different, of course, and not every fruit, nut, or fungus is going to give generous harvests in any one year, but this one seemed more universally disappointing. Most folks would be quick to blame the drought that defined the summer, myself included. 

Continue reading “Making the most of the foraging harvest”

Foraging in Minnesota: Wild Grapes

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I never paid much attention to wild grapes until a couple years ago. Growing up in the Minnesota River valley, we often encountered beefy grape vines in the woods that disappeared into the tops of the tallest treees. They were sturdy enough to swing on if you could break them at the bottom. The fruit I tasted on occasion wasn’t very good compared to the green and red grapes from the store, so I wrote them off in my youth. For decades, I didn’t know what I was missing. 

Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Wild Grapes”

Foraging in Minnesota: Sand Cherry

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A couple days ago, my daughter found a single cherry. I could not have been more elated. 

It was our first Sand cherry. We’d been searching hard for two whole days, covering almost 10 miles on foot, in three distinct parts of Minnesota. The triumph was not so much the harvest (ultimately a couple dozen cherries) as it was the successful conclusion to our foraging quest. 

Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Sand Cherry”

Foraging in Minnesota: Blackberries

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It’s blackberry season. While I sit here typing this out in mid-August, I have a hunch there are literally tons of them out there going unpicked. And while not every year is good for blackberry picking, we’ve had good rainfall in 2020, which is a good sign. It was the same last year, when I literally picked gallon after gallon throughout most of August and into September, within a mile of my home.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Blackberries”

Foraging in Minnesota: Hedgehog Mushrooms

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Yesterday I found my first hedgehog mushrooms of the season. It was on a short outing with my daughter; she was after raspberries and I wanted to follow up on the sudden burst of mushroom activity in the yard. I suspected some edible mushrooms would be available, mostly chanterelles and lobsters. Those were good finds, but I hollered out loud when the first few hedgehogs appeared on the forest floor- they are among my most favorite mushrooms to eat. Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Hedgehog Mushrooms”

Foraging in Minnesota: Dwarf Raspberries

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Every year about this time there is a lull in the foraging season here in Minnesota. The early season has passed and the frenzy over morels, fiddleheads, and ramps is over. The summer mushrooms and berries really haven’t started. However, while raspberries, blackberries, thimbleberries, and other members of the Rubus clan have yet to even finish blooming, their little brother is here to take center stage. 

Enter Dwarf Raspberry. Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Dwarf Raspberries”

Foraging in Minnesota: Ostrich Ferns

Read More Foraging fiddleheads

The Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) seems to be gaining in popularity among foragers, if mentions in social media are any indication. Posts about “fiddleheads” are becoming more and more common this time of year. Also apparent in the social media soup is how much confusion there is when it comes to knowing which species are edible and how they are identified. 

Some people- a proportional few- are vocal in their opinion that the Ostrich fern is not the only edible fern in Minnesota. While that may be true for sometimes complicated reasons, I will not subscribe to that school of thought. Allow me to explain why.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Ostrich Ferns”

What to Fix: Recipes for Ramps

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Ramps are special, and the season is short. For some foragers, it’s the taste of Spring, and they wouldn’t miss it. I’m not that fervent, but I do like them nonetheless. This year, I made a point to branch out and do more than scrambled eggs with ramps. Now, I’m no chef, so don’t expect any groundbreaking ideas or recipes here. My perspective is that of an avid forager and great fan of trying new things. Continue reading “What to Fix: Recipes for Ramps”

Foraging in Minnesota: Ramps

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Once again, I blame social media. For what, you ask? For the ridiculous fame that ramps seem to be “enjoying” nowadays.

Of course, people have known about ramps for a long time, even holding spring festivals for them in parts of the eastern U.S. where they used to grow prolifically. I say “used to” because it is well known that wild ramp populations are hurting. Because of that, they really don’t need any extra harvest pressure. Every foraging group I subscribe to on Facebook, however, is currently experiencing Ramp Mania. Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Ramps”