Blueberries have enjoyed a surge in popularity because of their health qualities.
ELLSWORTH TOWNSHIP -- Pull. Snap. Plop.
That's the rhythm that lures the dedicated blueberry picker. Releasing the blueberry from the bush takes only the slightest tug, followed by the almost inaudible snap of the berry as it pulls away. Then, plop, into the container.
Over and over and over.
It's a kind of therapy for the pickers, they say. There's communion with nature, a sense of getting back to basics, an ability to blot out the world. And dreams of muffins, pancakes, jams and pies.
A yen for blueberry therapy brought Edith Clark of Austintown to Ellsworth Township on Wednesday. Rain was pouring down, and other pickers at Ellsworth Berry Farm abandoned their bushes and sought shelter indoors.
Not Edith -- she came in, put down a bucket of berries, then walked outside to pick more.
A self-described two-handed picker, Clark says she freezes most of her berries so she can enjoy them all winter long.
That's just one of the reasons she loves blueberries: "They freeze so well."
Nothing is easier than preserving fresh blueberries, Anna Munholand said. Just pick them, pack them and freeze. That's it -- no picking through the berries, no rinsing before you freeze.
"You don't want to rinse off that blueberry blush," Munholand said. "You rinse them when you take them out of the freezer."
A summer institution
Munholand and her husband Jim have owned Ellsworth Berry Farm since the late 1970s. They were living in Boardman but had a passion for country life. They knew they wanted to farm something, but they weren't sure what. Strawberry farms abounded in those days, Munholand said. Blueberries seemed like a good idea.
It wasn't easy, she said. The first year, almost all the blueberries died. One early year, there wasn't a single drop of rain in May, the month they really needed it.
But they kept planting and persisting, waiting and watering.
"We stumbled through the first five or six years," she said. "It takes about seven years, if you can just keep them watered."
Each summer, a steady stream of pickers come to the farm, about four miles west of Canfield. For many, it's a family tradition.
Linda DeLost of Poland used to come to Ellsworth Berry Farm with her mother. On Wednesday, she brought her 18-year-old daughter, Becky. Becky brought a friend along. And the three of them, soaked to the skin, left with about 10 pounds of blueberries. DeLost's family eats them on cereal, in muffins and in homemade jam.
"Last year we ran out of the homemade jam, so I bought some jam at the store," she said. "It just sat there. They would not eat it."
Pulling fresh berries out of the freezer in the dead of winter is a treat, DeLost said.
"That is heaven," she said. "It brings you right back to summer every time."
Summers for the Munholand family have always revolved around the berries. Often, Anna Munholand hired a bevy of teens to help around the farm; her husband told her it looked like she was running a summer camp.
When her own children protested, she would tell them: "It's like a souped-up Kool-Aid stand!"
Healthy and tasty
Over the years, she raised three children and 2,500 blueberry bushes. The children have grown and gone; the bushes still produce little round berries.
On their 30-acre spread, the Munholands grow about 10 varieties of blueberries, as well as red raspberries and blackberries. By far, blueberries abound.
The farm got a shot in the arm about three years ago when food scientists began to tout the healthy properties of the blueberry. They've become a kind of super-fruit: they're low in fat and high in fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants. Some researchers say they reduce eye strain and fatigue, promote urinary tract health and reduce buildup of bad cholesterol.
"The darker the color, the better it is," Munholand said. "People really picked up on it, and it has brought a lot of people out, because they like the health aspect. So it has helped us a lot."
Six-year-old twin sisters Lindsey and Jessica Jenkins don't know about antioxidants and fiber. They don't care about vitamins and fat.
They came to the farm for one reason and one reason only.
"Blueberry pancakes," the Canfield sisters said in unison. "We like 'em in pancakes."