Blueberry Season Is Upon Us
DENALI, ALASKA- August is blueberry season. I’ve heard about it for a long time—the coming of the blueberries, when the bushes are bursting at the seams with the traditionally expensive fruity treats we all love so much. It’s a hallmark of the Alaskan summer experience, and I’ve finally gotten to have a go at it.
It can be mildly frustrating since just because the blueberries appear, it doesn’t mean that they are ripe. Pick the blueberries too soon, and you’ll find yourself with a bowl full of bitter, chewy morsels that will hardly satisfy your palate. Wait for them to ripen however, and you are in for a real treat.
No more than a stone’s throw from housing is a large path of blueberries, and on any given morning you can peer out and see a half-dozen employees bent over and slowly shuffling around, intently picking fistfuls of the best and brightest treats. They’ll be used for a variety of purposes—blueberry muffins for one, flavored vodka for those with a taste for drink, or right into a bowl of oatmeal, spicing up an otherwise flavorless breakfast.
It’s a novel concept to someone like myself that right outside my door there are more blueberries than I could ever fathomably pick and eat, and they are perfectly fine to add to my daily diet, which I happily am since fruit is a rare commodity. Should you be concerned with whether or not they were actually blueberries—discussion of whether or not you should “eat the berries” is a constant source of dark amusement to those around here—I received a good tip from Alex, the chef: put a purported blueberry in your mouth, and chew it to see if it takes like a blueberry. If it does, eat it and pick more from that bush. If it doesn’t, spit it out and you haven’t ingested any of the potential poison.
Complementing the vast array of blueberries available for picking are the fungal wonders that are a bit more dangerous to ingest: mushrooms. Late in the summer, and especially after a big rain, they can be found everywhere. More species than you can ever imagine grow in an area the size of a city block, and not all are fit for consumption. Mushrooms are widely known to be toxic should you ingest the wrong kinds, though if you know what you are looking for, they can be a nice addition to your daily diet.
My personal inclinations have led me to pick blueberries at every conceivable opportunity, though I am far more hesitant to indulge in cooking mushrooms that I’ve picked myself. Brett, another chef, has been coming to Alaska for 15 years and extensively studies mushroom, slinking off into the wilderness to collect basketfuls which he will then cook and eat. I’ve gotten a few batches from him, which I’ve duly cooked up and put in pasta sauce…another welcome addition to my diet considering how difficult it is to get fresh food.
Mushrooms and blueberries might seem like random foods to get excited about, but when they are growing all around you it is a much bigger deal. When you can go to ShopRite and buy any variety of orange, avocado, banana, or spinach, you tend to lose the ability to appreciate just how far these commodities have traveled to present themselves t your disposal. When that opportunity isn’t available because the nearest supermarket is 3 hours away, you get an appreciation for foraging for food that you might never have had—it’s the ultimate organic experience.