Maine is big on blueberries – wild blueberries. Wild blueberries are one of the food plants native to America and they have been growing here for many, many years. They are different than the cultivated high bush blueberries as the plants grow low to the ground and the berries are much smaller in size. It has been reported that wild blueberries have twice the antioxidants of regular blueberries and are therefore healthier. People like to go out into the fields and hillsides on public lands to gather them. In addition, Wyman’s Company, the leading brand of frozen wild blueberries has their processing plant in the area where we were staying. Perhaps you have seen their product in the store as they are sold all over. In the photo above, I am showing off a handful of berries I found at our campground.
My introduction to wild blueberries in Maine came with the book, “Blueberries For Sal,” a well loved children’s picture book written in 1948 by long time Maine resident Robert McCloskey. The main character is based on his own daughter and the story revolves around little Sal going out with her mother to pick wild blueberries. Carrying her pail and eating as many blueberries as she picks, Sal and her mother run into a mother and baby bear who are also out foraging for berries. I loved this story as a child and loved reading it to my own kids as well. A classic Maine tale I couldn’t help thinking about as I saw wild blueberries in the fields and picked some berries myself.
While in Maine I had hoped to find a farm where I could pick blueberries, highbush or wild, but I could not find any in our local areas. After we moved to our third and final campsite further up the coast, I found Lynch Hill Farms with their wild blueberries just beginning to be picked for sale. Mark and I went to pick up some berries from their store thinking it would be a short visit as this is not a u-pick farm. Instead, we stayed much longer as we were offered an informal tour by one of the owners who asked us if we would like to see the wild blueberry fields. These fields have been growing wild on this property for years and are managed by the farm. They are grown on a two year cycle, harvesting the crop every other year. In between harvesting, the plants are pruned by either mowing or burning to encourage higher yields. The owner spent time with us in the fields talking about what it was like working in the wild blueberry industry and how the plants are harvested, which is usually with short hand rakes. He said that they hire migrant workers from Mexico who work the blueberry fields in the summer after which they head to West Virginia to pick apples in the fall. We also saw the farm’s cranberry fields but it was too early in the season as they ripen in the fall.
We were surprised when the owner took us to see their mushroom business. We were expecting to see blueberry and cranberry fields but this farm also grows shiitake mushrooms and makes balsam wreaths from fir trees on their property for the holiday season. So how do they grow mushrooms? Starting with oak logs, they drill holes and inoculate with mushroom spawn. The holes are then covered with a hot wax to seal them. Oak logs are best to use and the word shiitake actually means the “mushroom of the oak.” The photo above shows the process of sealing the holes with wax. Near the log is a bag of spawn and a small crockpot of hot wax.
The logs are taken to the nearby woods and stacked to wait for the mushrooms to grow. It was a fascinating introduction to mushroom growing. The farms sell these premium mushrooms to restaurants and specialty stores. Below is a photo of mushrooms growing on a log.
Shortly thereafter, we got to have another tour of a Maine specialty business. While I was researching things to do, I found out about a small business called Maine Sea Salt Company. I read a few reviews where people said the owner was happy to take visitors on a tour to see his unique production. Mark and I stopped in and found Steve finishing up showing his saltworks to two other people. An easygoing guy, he was happy to take us around as well. He has been harvesting sea salt since 1998 and although his facility is rather small and he does much of the work himself, he sells his salt all over the U.S.
Steve uses greenhouses to evaporate sea water which is pumped in from a local harbor. The first set of greenhouses evaporates the sea water by 50 percent before the water is moved to the second set of greenhouses. After further evaporation the remaining water and salt is moved to the finishing greenhouse where the pool of water is completely evaporated leaving behind the sea salt. We stepped into each of the greenhouses and I was shocked at how hot and humid it was inside. I couldn’t imagine working in that environment. Steve explained that they work in the greenhouses during the early mornings before they start heating up. It was really interesting to see the water being evaporated and the salt crystals forming as the photo above shows.
A few large containers were located outside the greenhouses and Steve opened one to show us the finished salt. We moved on to the drying room where even more moisture is squeezed out of the salt in vats using towels. After drying, flavorings are added to the salt and we noticed on the wall recipes for various flavorings – no secret formulas here! Some of the salts are smoked and we were shown the smoking area outside where he uses common BBQ smokers. Although he was not smoking salt when we visited, he lifted the lid and showed us how he smoked his salt. Around the grills were different kinds of wood like apple, hickory, mesquite and maple stored in lobster cages. When I asked him why lobster cages, he said that the cages allow air to flow freely around the wood and are just right for his size operation. It was inspiring to see this man’s passion for a product that we so often take for granted. After visiting this shop, we noticed his salt being offered in every tourist area we visited in Maine.
I had high hopes for Sunset Point Campground, our last place to stay in Maine. A small campground located right on the Bay, it had excellent reviews for the scenery and kind owner. Although our campsite did not have a water view, it was a short stroll to a path along the bay with wonderful views. This was a great place to hang out and enjoy nature and I looked forward to seeing the promised sunsets. The bench pictured below was placed on a large rock by the owner and was my favorite viewing spot.
But alas, for most of the evenings of our week long stay, scenic sunsets eluded us as grey clouds or fog inevitably rolled in before the sun was going down. One evening I walked all around the area including checking out places down the road. It was foggy and grey, no sun to be seen and even though the area is secluded and very lightly populated, it still felt strange to not hear a sound or see anything stirring. During the evenings, the tide was always out leaving a muddy wasteland. As I took photos I had to laugh at myself for thinking that the place had a forsaken and almost apocalyptic look.
We did end up having two days of great sunsets before we left – two of the best we have seen on our travels, so Sunset Point Campground was certainly appropriately named. It was worth standing on that rock getting attacked and bitten by mosquitos to see all the beauty. (I had forgotten one night to put on repellant). Check out the two different views below.
Another fun thing about the campground was that you could order a lobster from the owner and for one dollar more he would cook it and bring it to your RV doorstep. The lobster came on a large patriotic paper plate with a cracker. How fun to have a steamed lobster delivered to our trailer door.
And speaking of delicious Maine food, below is a picture of a yummy slice of wild blueberry pie I had after one of my (Marks says many) lobster rolls.
Stay tuned for next time when I write about our day visit to a former president’s home on an island in Canada.
2 thoughts on “Blueberries, Mushrooms, Sea Salt and Sunsets”
So great you guys got to spend so much time in Maine, so much to see, incredible. Fascinating about the mushroom growing. Love all these little farms, seems like a fun living, but probably hard work. Can’t be too many RV parks with lobster delivery service! Such a great area, love it
Matt, yes I agree that staying those five weeks in Maine was definitely worth it! It actually would have been great to stay several months there and see more of the inland part of the state as well as spend more time on the coast. I really like all the little farms too and seeing how things grow and are made. Seeing the mushroom growing operation was an unexpected surprise as I thought we would only see blueberries growing. One of the funnest things about traveling is the unexpected.