As I reach for the plumpest blue berries near the top of the bush I hear squeals and giggles from April and her friend Kylia, who are playing on the other side of the row. I look down at April’s discarded basket in which sit five lonely berries. My eight litre basket almost full, I pop a handful of warm ripe berries into my mouth and move further down the row in search of more purplish blue spheres.
Fortunately, the type of blueberries grown at Aux Saveurs de la Terre are highbush, meaning that there is no need to stoop to pick them. Also, I have discovered that the plumpest, ripest berries tend to be near the tops of the bushes — closest to the sun — so I continue along, picking happily, and eating a handful every now and then.
Berry picking is one of my favourite things about living in Quebec in the summer. For a weekend outing, not much can beat heading to a farm in the country to pluck strawberries or blueberries from the bush. This year was the first time I had gone strawberry picking, and the day we chose was baking hot. As a result, the sweet berries were the temperature of blood, and the juices simply oozed and trickled when you bit into them. There is nothing like it, and if you’ve never eaten fruit that you’ve picked yourself, you have no idea what you’re missing. Once home, I froze about half and we consumed the rest over the course of the next few days, saving some for a birthday party where they were devoured with gusto by kids and parents alike. Then I bought more from the market which I made into strawberry rhubarb agave jam: eight jars of summer sweetness that will last us well into the autumn, and maybe even the winter.
While strawberry season is now over, the blueberries will be here until around mid-August, depending on the farm and how many bushes they have. Whereas picking strawberries involves sitting or stooping, blueberries are fun because the kids can run up and down rows, picking berries and playing as they please. The bushes are just the right height for a three-year-old to get the lower-lying berries, and older kids to pluck higher, reaching deep into the bushes for the little bundles of finger-staining goodness. Plus, an activity that encourages kids to fill their bellies with the freshest fruit imaginable, and creates an understanding of where our food comes from is pretty awesome in my books.
Berry picking near Montreal:
Quinn Farm is in nearby Île-Perrot, with a big shop selling all sorts of baked goods and pre-picked fruit. They have a barn where you can look at the farm animals. They’re a little more commercial, however, and charge $2 for admission and have slightly higher prices. They had run out of strawberries when we arrived, so we went to Ferme Anse au Sable, which is just down the road and had plenty of berries to choose from. They also grow corn, raspberries, blueberries, apples and pears, and the farmer is very friendly.
For blueberries, there are other great farms further from Montreal, and the farther north you go in Quebec, the more likely you are to find wild blueberries. Aux Saveurs de la Terre is about an hour from the city, as is Le Rêve Bleu, where you can buy blueberry wine and liqueur as well as pre-picked berries. I preferred picking at Aux Saveurs de la Terre, simply because they prune their bushes to make it easier to reach the berries.