The air is thick with the nearly suffocating humidity of a July morning in South Carolina, but that doesn’t deter us from our mission ― it’s part of the experience. Clad in straw hats, the lightest summer clothes we own, and flip flops, we make our way across the front yard toward the prize of the summer: PaPa’s blueberries. In addition to our annual trip to the Southeast Old Thresher’s Reunion with Jeremy’s family, this event is one of the bright, shining beacons of the summer.
As we approach the thicket, the wild, untamed bushes come into focus, bursting with ripe fruit begging to be picked. The branches are so thick with blueberries that they droop with the weight. Bees hum and buzz in and out of the bushes, but we pay them no mind since there’s more than enough to go around.
As we reach our destination, our mouths begin to water thinking about all the ways we’re going to enjoy the spoils of our labor in the coming weeks. Blueberry pancakes. Blueberry muffins. Blueberry cobbler. Blueberries with a bit of sugar in a bowl of ice cold milk. Blueberries by the handful, straight out of the refrigerator. A blissful blueberry bonanza.
We choose a spot and begin to pick, gently dropping each handful into cutoff milk jugs attached to our waists with a belt strung through the handle. There’s an art to harvesting blueberries, I have been told, though I still haven’t quite mastered it. Over years of blueberry seasons, you learn to scan the branches quickly to pick out the berries at peak ripeness: the perfect deep shade of blue that speaks to the sweetness within and just the right amount of firmness. You pick quickly and move on, not stopping for too long in one place to contemplate all the ones you might be missing (which is the hardest part for me―I want to pick every perfect berry!).
Of course, as we pick, it’s only right to sample the season’s offerings; this usually looks something like “taste a few, put a handful in your bucket, sample a few more, drop a few more in the bucket.” Before we know it, our mouths are stained purple, our tongues buzz from the tangy sweetness, and the weight of the milk jugs straining the belts indicates that we’ve picked enough.
It’s always hard to walk away and see all the berries we’re leaving, but the season’s offering almost always provides more than any family ― even the three or four generations that pick from these bushes each year ― could possibly consume in one season. But there’s always the reminder that if all goes well there will be more next year, and the excess that we freeze from this year’s harvest will help us get through until it’s blueberry season once again!