Once in a blue moon you come across a dream of a blueberry patch.
This last long weekend of the summer that just disappeared over the horizon offered exactly that when a friend invited us in a last minute, spontaneous kind of way to come and pick blueberries at a u-pick field in Surrey.
It's great, she promised. Turned out it was much more than that.
If I'd ever imagined slipping away at the end of my life to a spot to lie down and die, it would be a blueberry field just like that one on a golden late summer's day, with row upon row of blueberry bushes, heavy and fragrant with fruit, set off by a cloudless sky and dry grasses swaying in the breeze.
Those grasses were the first good sign after the one on the roadside announcing u-pick at 80 cents a pound. Cheap compared with the usual $1.30 or so a pound for most u-picks in the area, and much cheaper than the going rate at local stores where B.C. blueberries are in the range of $3 a pound.
But a u-pick field full of beautiful wild grasses and plants, otherwise known as weeds, means the place hasn't been sprayed with a herbicide. One so quiet you can hear the grasshoppers fly by means you're far from the madding crowd and your berries won't be coated with the black residue from traffic that fields near busy highways suffer.
Given the number of varieties of blueberries grown here in B.C. — the catalogue from Sidhu Growers, one of the biggest suppliers of blueberry stock in the province, lists 22 varieties of Northern Highbush alone, from the late-bearing Auroras to the Spartans with their excellent flavour — you'll feel like you've struck gold if you find a field with berries tailored to your taste.
We lucked out in our field of older, taller bushes with small, fragrant berries. That meant we didn't have to bend over to pick, which is a good thing as some growers convert to the cold-hardy "half-high" varieties. These are a cross between the lowbush varieties and the typical Northern Highbush varieties, which grow to be about six feet high.
B.C. is king of highbush blueberries in North America. With some 800 farmers in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley growing blueberries on about 8,000 hectares, we account for 95 per cent of the highbush blueberries grown in Canada.
Lowbush varieties, which grow between one and two feet high, are native to Eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S.. Commercial lowbush operations amount to tending wild plants to encourage them to spread. Even though they are grown commercially, these lowbush varieties can be labelled as "wild blueberries" when sold, something I find a little deceptive.