The blueberries are ripe and ready to pick at Apple Hill Farm in Concord.
“The first couple of weeks of blueberry picking is always the busiest,” says Diane Souther, “because everybody's been waiting for them and once they start they're here!”
The farm she owns with her husband, Chuck, was originally just an apple orchard – hence Apple Hill.
But they diversified in the late 1970s, and now grow a full range of fruits and vegetables, with blueberries coming in third for acreage, behind apples and sweet corn.
That turned out to be a good idea.
“People used to make apple sauce, they'd freeze pies, they'd come and they'd pick bushels of apples,” Souther recalls. “Now we see the trend is a little bit less. They pick a half a bushel or maybe just a peck. They may come back numerous times, but they no longer put up apples like they used to, because apples they can now get year-round – they can get good fresh apples that are from somewhere.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, New Hampshire's apple acreage decreased by more than a quarter in just the five years between the 2007 and 2012 censuses. Blueberries, on the other hand, held on to their 0.3% of the state's cropland.
Souther says that's because blueberries are different. People tend to think of them as a health-food, as local, “and they freeze really easy: all you have to do is put them in a ziplock bag and put them in the freezer. Because of that they're very versatile as to how you use them.”
Very versatile, as Greg Rebello, and his sons Zachary (11) and Raymond (13) Hoijer Rebello, know. They're out in the fields at Apple Hill with big plans.
“Maybe we could make blueberry pie and blueberry juice!” says Raymond.
“Or blueberry bread,” says Zachary
“And muffins and cobbler and syrup and jam,” says Greg. “There's a lot of things you can do with them.”
He should know; Rebello's sons say he's a great cook. The plan for tomorrow morning is pancakes, and then the options are limitless.
Well, almost limitless: “What if somebody picked a blueberry, a mini blueberry the size of a solar system,” Raymond wonders, “and it had a mini blueberry solar system Earth?”
Back on this Earth, Apple Hill sells its own blueberry pies, and puts blueberries in three of its jams: basic, old-fashioned blueberry jam; a three-berry jam with their strawberries and raspberries; and spiced blueberry jam, “which has cinnamon and nutmeg in it,” Souther says, “so it tastes very similar to a blueberry pie.”
But one of Souther's favorite uses for blueberries is blueberry maple syrup.
You start with maple syrup, she explains, then “add blueberries to it, and then you heat it up a little bit so the blueberries pop and it turns the syrup a little bit blue. It's a nice blueberry maple syrup that's all New Hampshire.”