Earlier this month, my husband and I had the awesome opportunity to attend a blueberry picking party at Voytko Farms. The event, Pick. Eat. Repeat. A blueberry picking party, was presented by The Agrarian Collective in collaboration with Edible Cleveland, as part of a series of workshops called Edible Thursdays. Each workshop costs $45 a person, however, my husband was the lucky recipient of two free tickets (that he won at another Edible Cleveland event), and I was the even luckier recipient of his extra ticket!
This was our first Edible Thursday experience, and our first time blueberry picking as well. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect, but we were excited nonetheless. We knew there would be blueberry picking, local beer and live bluegrass music; all of which sounded like a perfect summer evening. Turns out, the event was that and so much more!
Upon arrival, we were greeted by Kelli Hanley Potts of The Agrarian Collective. She had provided a fantastic spread of light appetizers, (sure to excite any fellow foodie), including things like whipped ricotta and mint, pickled onions and radishes, a fresh tomato bruschetta and, my favorite, the blueberry barbecued wings. They were soooo delicious, I had to return for seconds!! Kelli also provided a variety of locally brewed beers, which included Fat Head’s Bumble Berry, another favorite of mine!
We spent the first fifteen minutes or so enjoying the appetizers, mingling with other guests, and arming ourselves with bug spray (thanks to Lisa from Edible Cleveland for thinking ahead)!
Before heading into the fields, berry buckets in hand, Kelli forewarned of poison ivy in the fields, and advised us to be careful to avoid it!
Things took a slightly comical twist at this point since my husband, a city slicker that grew up in New York, has never been exposed to poison ivy. (Any outdoor activities are usually far from harms way for us, since we literally stick to the beaten path). He was a bit taken aback and had to quickly Google images of poison ivy to avoid an ill-fated brush with destiny in the fields.
The fields were a blueberry wonderland that seemed to go on forever, and the bushes were much taller than I expected, reaching heights over five feet tall. They were covered with tons of ripe berries perfectly ready for picking.
Armed with his poison ivy images, we set out to pick our blueberries. My husband kept a step ahead of me to ensure we weren’t in the poison ivy path of destruction and to keep any stray mosquitos at bay, by swatting defensively at the air. As we passed wooden hives setup near the outer edge of the blueberry patch, he used his 6’2″ body to shield me from any rogue bees (since I’m highly allergic).
Admittedly, we got off to a shaky start in the fields. I could sense some serious regret from my husband (as exhibited by his insect repellent dance, waving and flailing around through the fields). It took a little convincing to assure him he didn’t already contract poison ivy just by stepping foot in the fields. The mere prospect made his skin crawl and itch. (I guess poison ivy to city folk is more horrifying than the heebeejeebees one might encounter in the subways of New York).
Once we were past the poison ivy anxiety and other outdoor woes, we quickly found our berry picking groove and my husband seemed much more excited again. Many of the bushes had untouched low hanging fruit towards the bottom, (I suspect most people pick at eye-level) so, being short myself, I found it pretty easy to just comb through the lower branches, shaking the berries loose above my bucket. My husband staked out the best selections, and I came through to collect the loot. Kelli also made sure to check in on everyone incase we had any questions or needed help.
Our method worked perfectly for us, and within the forty-five minutes in the fields, we snagged two full buckets of blueberries, which later turned out to weigh around seven pounds!
Luckily, the second part of the event included a workshop with some tips and recipes for thinking outside the box on blueberry preparation!
After everyone returned from the fields, we continued to enjoy the appetizers while we had a nice Q & A session with Kelli and, Chuck, the farm’s owner.
Chuck let us in on some interesting facts like, if well taken care of, blueberry bushes can basically last forever. Those at Voytko Farms were likely more than fifty years old! Also, blueberries will continue to ripen throughout the summer, producing multiple opportunities for picking, instead of ripening all at once in a season. Chuck mentioned they have multiple varieties at the farm, including the tall ones, unlike the wild blueberries which are generally shorter and lower to the ground).
Kelli previewed the workshop by giving everyone a rhubarb shrub to sip on.
No, not a shrub as in a bush, but a shrub as in what she described as an early form of soda drinks that farmers often made to keep their thirst quenched in the fields.
It’s basically a one-to-one ratio of fruit to sugar, cooked down to a simple syrup. After forming the simple syrup, strain and add it to a container with equal parts of cider vinegar to syrup, and shake well. Kelli recommended using a raw unfiltered organic vinegar, which is more pricey (although Whole Foods has a nice $3 one!), but smoother tasting, versus the cheaper processed varieties.
The shrub syrup will keep indefinitely when refrigerated. To serve, add a small amount of syrup and top off with soda water, to taste. For a tipsy version, add prosecco, or other sparkling wine (or even a little vodka to the soda water version). The result is a sweet tart soda or cocktail, perfect for summer gatherings!
While enjoying the bluegrass band and local brews, we partnered up at the outdoor kitchen and made a blueberry shrub to take home. It was easy, fun and delicious!! We enjoyed mingling with the others and preparing our shrub with the rest of the guests.
Overall, the event was great. It was an educational, interactive, social gathering with some fantastic eats!
After the workshop, I was so inspired to use our blueberries in something other than pancakes, I made more blueberry shrub at home and found that it also doubled as a fabulous salad dressing in its concentrated syrup form!
I tossed some of our blueberries in a fresh caprese salad, and drizzled the shrub for a nice summer twist on this or any salad.
For another treat, I kicked up a traditional beer bread recipe with a bottle of Fat Head’s Bumble Berry and folded in about a cup of the fresh blueberries before baking. We thoroughly enjoyed it!
I’m looking forward to trying out the blueberry barbecue sauce Kelli served on the wings. I see some slow-cooked blueberry baby back ribs in our future!! (Say that five times fast!)
I highly recommend attending one of the Edible Thursday workshops for anyone looking for something different to do with your family, friends, significant other or even a double-date!
If you have some exceptional or unique blueberry recipe ideas, be sure to leave a comment and share your inspirations, and if you want to see my husband’s perspective (trust me, it’s very different), take a look at his blog post – Adventures of a City Slicker Berry Picker.