Road Trip: Craving the 'blues'

The whole thing started with my search for the best blueberry pie in Maine.

More 'blues'

"The Wild Blueberry Book" by Virginia M. Wright is everything you ever wanted to know about the blueberry. It mentions Wild Blueberry Land in Columbia Falls. You can buy it through DownEast Books at: www.downeast.com/maine/addison/books/our-books/wild-bunch

Here's an excerpt from the book:

"One of the kitschiest landmarks on Route 1 in Maine is a giant, grin-provoking blue dome, part amusement park, part specialty shop, bubbling up from the earth in the Down East town of Columbia Falls. Laying claim to the title of “world’s largest blueberry” (though one might argue it better resembles a flying saucer for Smurfs), Wild Blueberry Land sits, appropriately enough, in the heart of the most concentrated collection of blueberry barrens in Maine. It is the playful invention of Marie and Dell Emerson, who are as steeped in wild blueberry culture as any Washington County family gets."

Joie Crockett

Rows upon rows of high bush blueberries at Goss Berry Farm on Elm St in Mechanic Falls.

Joie Crockett

A slice of pie from The Railway Cafe in Richmond.

'The Wild Blueberry Book'  by Virginia M. Wright follows the story of these luscious berries as they make their way from the barrens to your table, with some stops along the way for pie-eating contests, baking competitions, and even an annual musical celebrating the culture that has grown up around Maine’s official berry.

Well, as you know, Maine is a large state, and if I tasted every blueberry pie I could find, I'd be as big as the state. So I decided to take a different route with the delectable blueberry.

Maine is well known for a lot of things, including lobsters, whoopie pies and chickadees. And then there's the blueberry, which is the official state fruit. We all know blueberries taste good, but not everyone may know . . .

— That Maine is the largest lowbush blueberry producer in the world, with more than 60,000 acres under cultivation.

— That blueberries are the second-most-popular berry eaten in the world, following the strawberry.

— And that August is the month when most of the harvesting is done for the wonderful little blueberry in Maine.

And they're very good for you. Blueberries are one of the healthiest foods you can eat: They provide vitamins K and C, manganese, fiber, plus they are overflowing with antioxidants. And only 84 calories a cup! Cooking robs them of some of the nutrients and health benefits, but you can use them in many ways. They freeze well, so you can pick them while they are plentiful and eat them year-round.

Given their popularity, it's no wonder people have found many delicious ways to eat them. One of my favorites is as a topping for cheesecake. Get a cheesecake and a can of blueberry pie filling (or make your own) and you're all set for one of the best treats around.

Blueberry season is almost over in the southern and central areas of Maine, but the pickings are still good. Here is a link to Maine pick-your-own farms: http://www.pickyourown.org/MEA2E.htm. Go pick some blueberries while they're still around, and make a road trip of these other blueberry-themed stops.

Wild Blueberry Land

1067 U.S. Highway 1

Columbia Falls

483-2583

http://www.wildblueberryland-maine.com/

Wild Blueberry Land is to blueberries what L.L. Bean is to the Maine hunting boot. Dell and Marie Emerson have spent their lives with blueberries: Dell is a professor who has studied the berry for 53 years and Marie is the cook. If you are up in Columbia Falls make sure to stop in and check out their giant blueberry store and all things blueberry. (See related book excerpt.)

Wild Oats Bakery and Cafe

149 Main St.

Brunswick

725-6287

http://www.wildoatsbakery.com/

No, it's not near blueberry barrens like many of the other stops on this road trip, but if you have never stopped in here for a meal or just baked goods, now is the time to check them out. They were out of traditional blueberry pie when I was there near the end of my futile search for Maine's best blueberry pie, but I tried their blueberry crumb pie and it was the best I've ever had.

Helen's Restaurant

111 Main St.

Machias (and also in Ellsworth)

255-8423

www.HelensRestaurantMachias.com

It seems that everyone knows about Helen's blueberry pie. In business since 1950, you can find Helen's Restaurant on Route 1 by the Machias River. Lots of people already have, and the pie is one good reason. Even the helpful lady who answers the phone at the center of the blueberry universe, Wyman's of Maine in Milbridge, recommends Helen's pie as a fine way to experience Maine blueberries. (She recommends the Helen's in Ellsworth, which is closer to Milbridge.) And while you're in Machias, some people can't get enough of the blueberry cream pie at the Bluebird Ranch Restaurant at 78 Main St. 

Scott Island, off Little Deer Island

Summer home of "Blueberries for Sal" author Robert McCloskey

You can't say Maine and blueberries without talking about McCloskey, who was born in Ohio, but summered in Maine with his wife and daughters Sally and Jane on Scott Island, a small island off Little Deer Isle. The author of "Make Way for Ducklings" and other books eventually had a home on Deer Isle, where he passed away in 2003. Award-winning “Blueberries for Sal” is about a girl and her mother, (McCloskey used his wife, Peggy, and daughter, Sally, for the story) and about blueberry picking on nearby "Blueberry Hill" and the adventure they encountered there. After paying tribute to the author, you should head a few miles south to Stonington, where people say Lily's Cafe offers up great blueberry pancakes and the Harbor Cafe is known to have blueberry pie worthy of serving with a reading of McCloskey's award-winning story.

Wyman's of Maine

7 Wyman Road

Milbridge

1-800-341-1758

http://www.wymans.com/

They don't offer tours, so there would be little to see if you stopped by, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention Wyman's of Maine, the king of blueberry cultivation in Maine. Look in the frozen foods section at your store to find blueberries and other fruits and berries distributed by this company, which began in 1874 with the growing and harvesting of wild Maine blueberries. Check out the website for more information. They offer a video, history, recipes and more.

'Blueberries for Sal' by Robert McCloskey is the story of a little girl Sal and her mother as they go out into the country to pick blueberries for winter, and a bear and his mother as they go to eat berries for winter from the other side of the same hill. Set in a small town in Maine.

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 's picture

Blueberry Wine

My family has a house in Machias, ME and every August we pick wild blueberries to make wine, mead, and other delicious treats throughout the year. This year was my record raking 60 lbs! My 99 year old grandfather still gets out there and rakes with the best of them. Great family fun.

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