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.

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”

BWCA Entry Point 25: Winter Camping and Fishing

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For years I have dreamed of camping and ice fishing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Biting cold and slush-laden lake tops have kept me home the last two winters. That was fine; I’m not one to press my luck. But the warmer-than-average weather we’ve enjoyed lately had me itching to get at it.

Entry Point 25, with walleyes in Newfound Lake and brook trout in Found Lake, was the perfect setting for my introduction into winter adventuring. Little did I know, however, that introduction would come with a sobering peek into my own psyche. Continue reading “BWCA Entry Point 25: Winter Camping and Fishing”

The Year of Untouchable Bucks

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Hanging some antlers on the wall is a dream that sparkles in every deer hunter’s eye. Unsurprisingly, big bucks dominate deer hunting marketing and media. I will admit I’m not immune to the images and hype.

But at this time in my life, my main priorities each deer season are observing tradition, pursuing new experiences, and doing all I can to secure meat for my family. My 2020 deer hunt embodied those three as much or more than any other, spread across two weeks and three distinct settings. Continue reading “The Year of Untouchable Bucks”

Do Something New: Minnesota State Park Deer Hunt

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It all started about two years ago. My deer season had almost passed without a single deer sighting. I’d spent two rainy days in a deer stand on private property, then one especially frigid day hoofing it on state forest land. If it weren’t for the good fortune of my brother and dad, we’d have been short on meat for the year.

Continue reading “Do Something New: Minnesota State Park Deer Hunt”

Trip Report: Bottomland Paddling and Sanborn Canoe

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After my incredible deer hunt in the Mississippi bottomlands of southeast Minnesota last season, I’ve been hot to find similar territory for future excursions. And since the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge contains almost limitless opportunities for somebody with more ambition than sense, it was an obvious place to start.

Continue reading “Trip Report: Bottomland Paddling and Sanborn Canoe”

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”

BWCA Entry Point 52: Saved by Gillis Lake

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What do you get when you take a pandemic-weary man, work him nearly to exhaustion, cook him in the sun, and feed him a couple fish? A question for the ages, no doubt. In order to learn the answer, I left home hours before sunrise on May 18th. My destination was BWCA Entry Point 52, Brant Lake- somewhere I’d been trying to go for over a year. Continue reading “BWCA Entry Point 52: Saved by Gillis Lake”

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”

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”