Monday, June 05, 2006

Finding my thrill on blueberry hill

In our quest to make wine, this weekend Doug and I decided that we would make some blackberry wine and some blueberry wine. We had planned on doing it over Memorial Day weekend, but from talking to some farmers, blueberries weren’t going to be quite ready yet. We decided to wait until this weekend and do both.

First off, I must say that it is not easy to find blueberries near Austin. The Texas Pick Your Own site listed two places out towards Bastrop, and one place 90 miles northeast, past Taylor and on past Hearne. Blackberries can be found all over the place, but not blueberries. One of the guys out towards Bastrop swore that he had the juiciest berries in all of Texas, but he didn’t open until after noon on Sundays, and we didn’t relish the idea of picking in the heat of the afternoon. Plus, he never sent us directions.

Originally Doug and I were just going to head out towards Bastrop and see if we could find any fruit stands. Yesterday morning, about 8:30, we loaded the car with the dogs and headed out. Doug, thinking that the farm to the northeast was closer to Taylor than it was, and because it opened early on Sunday, headed out that way. About 45 minutes into the trip and Doug realized it was much further than he thought. Another 30 minutes and we knew that we were committed to picking, and not to just buying at a roadside stand (especially when there weren’t any).

About 10:15 we arrived at the De Zavala farm, 8.5 miles east of Franklin, and about 30 minutes north of College Station. It was run by a nice older couple. Blackberries and blueberries were $2.75 per pound if we picked them, and $3.50 per pound if they picked them, only they didn’t have any picked. Their farm hand was out on Friday and they didn’t have enough for us. We figured that was okay. Mr. De Zavala drove us around the farm on his golf cart. He showed us his blackberries and explained that one batch had been picked over, while the other batch probably wouldn’t be ready until this weekend. He also showed us his raspberries, which intrigued me, as I love raspberries and want to try that as some wine. Unfortunately, raspberries aren’t commonly found in Texas and I knew from the Pick Your Own site he is one of three farmers in Texas that grows raspberries. Mr. De Zavala said that they too would be ready next weekend for large batches, but that the season was only two weeks in length.

Then we got to the blueberries. He explained that normally blueberries don’t grow this far west in Texas (must be why only found a limited listing of farms), but that he specially treats the soil. Since neither of us had ever picked blueberries before, he showed us something about the berries. One thing to know is that the berries don’t all ripen the same. You’ll see a cluster of 5 berries and maybe two will be ready to pick. He showed us the difference between blueberries that were all blue, and thus ripe and sweet, and blueberries that still had spots of red, which were more acidic. Bottom line, you had to pick each berry by hand and individually – there was no just grabbing a clump and being done with it.

I guess I didn’t know what to expect, but the blueberry picking was different from what I imagined. First, I didn’t realize that trees were more like hedges, and grew 6 feet tall. I was thankful for this, as it didn’t mean being bent low like when picking strawberries. I also didn’t know that it would take so long – more than 2.5 hours for three buckets. Hoping that we would find a roadside stand, I didn’t wear sunscreen and my shoulders got burned. Doug was in jeans. And while we could go up to the farmhouse and get water, we really would have liked to have some there with us. The dogs were okay with the picking. The car was under the shade of tall pines, but they wanted to be in the hot sun with us. After a while we had to leash them because they would start back to the farmhouse in search of water for themselves. Occasionally they find shade under a blueberry bush, but would want to wander as we moved down the path. Dante did find a nice patch of hay, which was covering a pile of fertilizer (aka manure), and decided to spend five minutes rolling in it. He was as happy as a pig in mud.

When it was said and done, we picked 3 buckets of blueberries, which came to just over 19 pounds. As we were paying the couple, and getting more ice water, Mr. De Zavala talked wine with us and let us sample his blueberry wine. He admits he makes it a bit sweet, but it was good. He and Doug talked about the process and he gave Doug some good suggestions for the wine.

It was almost 4 p.m. when we got back home. Tonight we’re going to start on the blueberry wine. Next week we may go back and get blackberries and raspberries and try our hands at making some of that. We will keep readers posted on how our wines turn out

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