By Frances Dowell
The civilized blueberry moved to North Carolina in the early half of the 20th century. Wild blueberries have been growing in the piney woods of the eastern shores since the beginning of time (or thereabouts), but it wasn’t until one Harold Huntington of Montclair, NJ, cleared a thousand acres in Pender County in 1936 that blueberries were actually cultivated in the Old North State.
Huntington, a blueberry farmer by trade, wanted to plant his berries in an area with a longer growing season than New Jersey’s. He needed a spot with seasonal weather and acid soil. Enter our fair southeastern counties, with their properly acidic PH-levels and their winters cold enough and long enough (but not too long) to provide ideal blueberry-growing conditions.
There are crops more closely associated with North Carolina than the blueberry—tobacco, obviously, and sweet potatoes, maybe even the cucumber, at least once it’s been pickled. But even if the blueberry got a late start here, it’s become an important part of North Carolina’s agricultural economy. According to a 2012 report from the N.C. Department of Agriculture, NC blueberry growers bring in an estimated $65.8 million dollars a year, and North Carolina ranks sixth in the nation in blueberry production, harvesting 5,800 acres last year. There are over 100 blueberry operations in the state, producing 37 million pounds of blueberries annually.
Honey, that’s a lot of pie.
On top of the economic benefits blueberries bring to the state, they’re also considered by many to be a superfood. The U.S. High Bush Blueberry Council calls blueberries “a handful of health,” rich in fiber and vitamin C, and full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. On top of all that, they taste mighty good.
If you’re anywhere near Burgaw, NC, on June 15th, you need to head over to the 10th Annual NC Blueberry Festival. It’s the state’s biggest celebration of the blueberry. Ammon, NC’s 18th Annual Blueberry festival has come and gone, but put it on your calendar for the first week of June next year.
Another way to celebrate North Carolina blueberries is to pick a bucket or two for yourself. Nowadays, pick-your-own patches can be found across the state; to find one in your neck of the woods, check out the NC Farm Fresh site.
Adapted from a recipe by Mrs. Jane Hubers printed in The Art of Cooking in Pantego by the Women’s Society of Christian Service, Pantego, NC.
1 package graham crackers, crushed (¼ pound)
1 ½ cups white sugar, divided
¼ cup melted butter
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup water
2 tsp. lemon juice
½ cup sugar
3 Tbs. cornstarch
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine crushed crackers with ½ cup sugar and butter. Mix and pack in greased 9×12 baking pan.
Mix together cream cheese and ½ cup white sugar, eggs, salt and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Pour over graham cracker crust and bake for fifteen minutes.
While the crust is baking, mix together blueberries, water, lemon juice, ½ cup of sugar, and cornstarch, and cook over medium heat until liquid is clear. Cool and then pour over cream cheese layer. Refrigerate. When thoroughly chilled, serve with whipped cream.
Frances O’Roark Dowell is a writer who lives with her husband and two sons in Durham, North Carolina.