Ask a Mainer where to pick blueberries, and he or she will likely wave you to the nearest U-Pick-It outfit—one of the mom-and-pop farms along coastal Route 1, where out-of-staters are handed galvanized-steel buckets and set loose in quaint and carefully irrigated fields of highbush blueberries. The upside of this is that an hour of picking will net you a quart or more of plump berries. The downside is that those aren’t actually Maine berries but rather the same variety produced in New Jersey and Michigan and available in grocery stores around the country. Finding the real thing takes a little extra effort. Maine is famous for its wild, lowbush blueberries—a smaller and sweeter version of their produce-aisle brethren—found along the rocky coast and in the western mountains, mostly in the forest underbrush. Beginning in late July, the bushes’ white-bell flowers start to drop away, signaling to brown bears and locals alike that berry season has arrived. For the next month, hikers and seaside wanderers are treated to a sumptuous treasure hunt that can quickly become obsessive, as every ten steps reveals a new cache of velvety blue globes—handfuls, then mouthfuls, of exploding sweetness. The climate dictates when Maine blueberries are ready for picking: Coastline berries mature at least a week later—in the first week of August, say—than those inland, and mountaintop berries usually aren’t ripe until late August. To get the highest yield without sacrificing authenticity, seek out pick-your-own lowbush farms, many of which can be found in the Belfast area (Staples Homestead, a sixth-generation organic farm, is a popular outfit). You’ll know you’re at a lowbush farm because lowbush berries aren’t picked but harvested with rakes. Collect them for pancakes, for jam, for buckle, or for the simple joy of eating as you go.
Details: Staples Homestead (207-567-3393) is located on Old County Road in Stockton Springs. If you want to spend a night in the Belfast area, the Homeport Inn is a large former sea captain’s estate overlooking the water (207- 548-2259; doubles start at $110). The Sail Inn (207-469-3850) serves up classic lobster salads and fried clams.