The summertime magic of Jersey blues

Originally published at July, 2014
Now if you’re a blueberry purist (or just know a lot about the fruit), feel free to tell me that my wonderful wild blueberries aren’t really wild at all. And you’d be right, sort of.

But I’m talking Jersey here, South Jersey. Home to the Pine Barrens and birthplace of the domesticated blueberry. Those famous Jersey Blues that came about because of the dedication of one woman, Elizabeth White, who along with a USDA researcher produced the first commercial crop of them in 1916.

So we’re a bit smug when it comes to talking about blueberries.

And yes, we know the difference between highbush ones and the truly wild lowbush variety.

But back to my favorite blueberries – the ones I call “wild.” The ones that didn’t come from a supermarket, but that I picked myself.

They were once domesticated highbush plants. But these blues have been on their own for quite a while, perhaps 50 years or more. And they’ve been thriving in the sandy, acidic soil here that they love. Each year when I see them again they have a new crop of amazing berries to share, both big and small. Some are quite tart, and others as sweet as candy. Some are a perfect blueberry “blue” and then you’ll come across a cluster of deep purple berries, more like grapes.

A quick turn off a busy road will bring you right to them. And like so many quick turns in this part of the world, you leave “civilization” instantly and find yourself in the midst of the pines.

Sandy trails wind around these high bushes that are framed by tall, rugged pitch pines. And the fragrance of the pine needles that are warmed by the sun is unmistakably like no other place.

We trekked over sand and slogged through marshes, pushing through dense, tall blueberry plants that had grown into each other. We saw a young, white-tailed buck bound across a field, and a trail that led to a large pond with wild cranberry plants covering the ground.

And at the end of the day I had a very large bag of blueberries.

Sure, I could have acquired the same amount with a fast trip to the supermarket. But I would have missed the sights and warmth of what the real magic of summer here is all about.

And I would have missed greeting my “wild” blueberry bushes again and hearing their tales about summer in the pines.