I’ve been picking blueberries at John and Terry Cuddy’s Rush River Produce in Maiden Rock, WI for about 5 years now. And in doing so have encountered all sorts of weather on the chosen days that I make the long and gorgeous drive to their beautiful farm. Most days I am lucky to enjoy ample sunshine that dazzles through the trees along Wisconsin’s Interstate 35, a picturesque road that winds, dips and turns along the mighty Mississsippi River, before dumping itself into stunning Lake Pepin. The scenery along the way is one of the reasons I don’t mind the 75-minute trip, each way. I can’t imagine a more beautiful route to take in order to pick the Cuddy’s delicious and gorgeous berries.
But this year was the first year that I picked my standard two boxes full of fruit in the rain.
I really didn’t have much choice. It was either take the chance and go, or possibly miss out. I took a day off work, a Thursday, which is the first of the four-day weekend when the farm is open for picking. It’s also the best day to go since the bushes are usually bursting with fruit, all begging to be picked. But gray cloud cover greeted me when I woke up, and I thought my plans were dashed. But I looked over the radar, and spoke to John, who assured me that if I did indeed come to pick I would be amply rewarded with a bountiful harvest. Finally I decided ‘What the hell….’. I changed into some grubby clothes and hit the road.
The rain was so heavy around the Cottage Grove area, and further South that I really began to wonder just how crazy I was. But as if by magic, when I drove over the old steel lift bridge across the Mississippi into Prescott, WI, the rain just stopped. Just like that. The sky seemed to brighten just a little and my hopes lifted. I soldiered on.
Rain creates it’s own beauty that summons a unique kind of appreciation. Most people find rainy days to inspire little else but languid activity and relaxation. But driving through the cliffs around that area of Wisconsin, seeing the huge plumes of mist high above me that formed from the rain and the low clouds that scuttled across the sky, almost it seemed, right at the top of the towering hills, it gave me a sense of awe at how lovely the world can be even when it’s soaking wet. And in the midst of a lush July with plenty of rainfall, the area was so richly green that it felt like I’d been dropped in the middle of a rainforest. The Cuddy’s farm, with it’s extensive gardens and 9 acres of blueberry bushes atop a high cliff above Lake Pepin was stunning in it’s own right. Low clouds obscured some of the hills and the foliage was laden with water. It wasn’t long after I started picking that I too was soaked to the skin. Although it wasn’t really raining, a fine and constant mist filled the air. Bent low over the bushes, and only intent on filling my baskets with the bounty in front of me, I really paid no attention to how wet I was getting.
After several hours that seemed to pass very quickly, I had what I wanted.
The views at the mouth of Lake Pepin weren’t as stunning as I’d seen on previous trips, but it’s beauty can’t be denied even when clouded over and heavily misting.
The tiny towns along WI I-35 range from the unincorporated Diamond Bluff, to the 97 folks in Stockholm (with the most amazing kitchen supply store, The Palate, that I’ve seen in ages) and, further down the road, the town of Pepin, coming in with a whopping 937 population, and home to the most famous Harbor View Cafe. Although I did not venture into Harbor View once in Pepin, I did manage to find a great sandwich and cup of coffee at Great River Cafe and Coffee Roasters. It satiated my hunger enough to get me back on the road, heading home with the sweet smell of blueberries filling my every pore.
The only downfall to picking the berries wet is that they’ll begin to break down much quicker, so utilizing my bounty was the first order of business. For the most part, I freeze the berries in baggies, mostly in 2-cup increments. This makes them perfect for any manner of muffin, pancake, smoothie, buckle or tart that I can dream up to create. And I make syrup too, because there’s just nothing better than a spoonful of fresh blueberry syrup. So now my freezer is full and the winter will be that much sweeter with the bounty available.
Rush River Produce– If you go, they are open for picking Thurs-Sun. 8AM-2PM but always call first to check on availability! Sometimes the crowds pick them out before the weekend is over. The Cuddy’s are superbly friendly and it’s a great adventure for kids and grown-ups alike. One of the best parts of my day in the rain was hearing the delightful shrieks of the kids around me as they hunted for their treasures.
And how about some great syrup to have for your pancakes, french toast and waffles?
Kate’s Fresh Blueberry Syrup
4 c. fresh blueberries, unwashed
1/2 c. water
2 T. cornstarch
1/4 c. honey
Stir all ingredients together in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to a simmer and allow to thicken slightly, about 20-30 minutes. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator.