No berry is more popular around Independence Day than blueberries. And you don’t have to look to faraway farms to find this delicious Fourth-of-July-friendly fruit.
You can pick your own at several eastern Oklahoma farms listed on the Oklahoma Agri-Tourism website.
At Thunderbird Berry Farm east of Broken Arrow, you can pick for free: No money changes hands as you can take home one bucket for every three you pick. The best advice is to go early, as steaming hot temperatures can slow down your productivity. Take a good hat and water supply.
Don Hansen has created a haven for folks who want to pick their own blueberries.
“It is a family operation here,” he said as we drove through rows of berries with three of his great-grandchildren. There also were plenty of tomatoes to supply the farm’s stream of produce headed to the Broken Arrow Farmers Market on weekends, with almost half a mile of sweet corn coming on.
I wasn’t surprised to meet Robert DeWitt, of Frontier Produce, a distributor who delivers Hansen’s Thunderbird Farm berries to a number of restaurants in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas.
I told Hansen I was going to have to come back before the supply of berries started slowing down around the middle of July. He says the weekends are super busy with pickers.
Hansen said he lost most of his initial planting following some bad advice when he started his operation 10 years ago at age 75. He and his wife, Nedra, have 15 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren and plenty of family members who help out at the farm. Of course, we talked about how to use all those berries: in oatmeal, yogurt, pies of all sorts and, of course, blueberry jam. Nedra Hansen makes a blueberry marmalade. “The lemon cuts through some of that sweetness in the berries,” her husband said.
About 30 minutes from Tulsa in Liberty is the well-maintained Endicott Farms. Betsy and her husband, Tim (an OSU-trained horticulturist), started with a cover crop before planting their berries four years ago. Betsy Endicott loves blueberries fresh off the vine. They also enjoy muffins and pancakes made with blueberries. Betsy keeps their website updated with U-pick info about the farm and availability of blueberries and blackberries.
Deann Williams makes fresh blueberry fried pies with berries from her beautiful hillside Maple Creek Berry Farm near Poteau. The pies and fireworks have become a Fourth of July tradition for clients of her husband, Lavon, who is a financial planner with a passion for farming.
“The berries are my husband’s hobby, and he works very hard at it,” Deann said.
Check with Sam or Janet Ingle if you are in the Talimena area picking blueberries. They have buckets and bags available for picking and taking home berries. Their Creekside Berry Farm is about 15 miles from the west end of Talimena Drive — just a mile west of the community of LeFlore. The Ingles enjoy blueberry cobbler and milkshakes.
Cathie Green and her husband, Jim, have Wild Things Farm at Pocola and grow a variety of berries including blueberries. Their U-pick offerings also include vegetables and fruits, depending on the season. Cathie says they will have blueberries into late July. The Greens have been growing blueberries for 10 of their 16 years on the farm. They enjoy blueberry pies and pancakes with blueberry syrup. It is always good to check with any U-Pick farm before heading out, as weather and all sorts of calamities can affect the harvesting of crops.
At a glance
U-Pick blueberry farms
Check websites or call for hours, directions or current availability of berries and scheduled picking times.
Star-Spangled Oklahoma blueberry pie
Makes 1 (9-inch) pie.
6 cups fresh-picked Oklahoma blueberries
2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar
1/4 to 1/3 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
Clean and wash berries. Blend sugar and cornstarch together and toss with berries. (Do not worry about any water that clings to berries as it becomes part of the juicy filling as berries cook.) Stir in lemon zest and juice. Place berries in large saucepan or skillet and heat over low-medium heat until berries begin to pop and start swimming in juice. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Liquid should be shiny and slightly thickened. Let cool while making pastry.
Sherrel’s favorite food processor pastry
21/2 sticks unsalted Braum’s or Hiland butter, cut into tablespoon slices and frozen
2 tablespoons shortening (Crisco butter-flavored)
21/2 cups Shawnee’s Best All-Purpose Flour
1 cup cake flour
2/3 to 3/4 cup ice water
Make ice water. Slice and freeze butter and shortening in individual chunks. Measure flours and salt into work bowl of processor. Add frozen butter and shortening to work bowl with flours. Pulse about 30 times until butter and shortening become little pea-size chunks incorporated into flour. With processor pulsing pour small stream of water through feed tube until dough just begins to come together. This will take about 25 to 30 more pulses. Empty moistened crumbly contents onto large sheet of plastic wrap and pull dough together to make a ball.
Divide in half, wrap and rest in refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Sprinkle additional flour over surface and roll dough into round about an inch larger than pie plate. (Be sure to turn dough a quarter-turn with each roll to avoid lopsided shrinkage during baking.) Fit into pie plate and trim.
Stars and other shapes: Use remaining dough like making cookies. Brush with egg wash using 1 egg yolk beaten with 2 Tablespoons milk or cream and sprinkle with granulated or Turbinado sugar. Top filling or for best results, bake separately on a parchment-lined cookie sheet at 375 F for 10 to 15 minutes. Use any extra for other projects or snacking.
I cut tiny stars to border the outside crust and applied them with egg wash using 1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons milk or cream. Sprinkle with granulated or Turbinado sugar.
Add cooled pie filling to prepared crust. Bake at 375 F for about 35 to 40 minutes until outer crust is golden brown. Top filling with pre-baked stars. Serve it with homemade vanilla ice cream or your favorite Braum’s variety.
Cooking notes: Use your own favorite pastry or purchase ready-made pastry for a double crust pie if desired. I use a pizza baking stone for all my pies to assure the bottom crust is completely done under the fruit filling. Pyrex plates for fruit pies are best to avoid metal pans reacting with juicy fillings as the pie is cut.
Fresh blueberry fried pies
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup water
4 cups fresh blueberries, stemmed and rinsed
1 tablespoon butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
11/2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
1 large egg
Shortening or canola oil, for frying
Making the filling: In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Mix until blended. Stir in the water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for 2 minutes or until thick and bubbly. Remove from the heat and pour over the blueberries. Add the butter and mix well. Cool completely.
Making the pastry: Sift the flour, 1/4 cup of the sugar, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the shortening and with your hands or a fork, mix until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, whisk the egg and milk together. Gradually add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and mix until a smooth ball forms. Cover the ball of dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each dough piece into a thin round about 5 inches in diameter.
Put about 1/4 cup of the blueberry mixture in the center of each round, fold the dough over, and crimp the edges together with a fork. Preheat the oil to 360 F. Fry the pies in batches, 2 to 3 at a time, until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Serve each pie on a serving plate with a scoop of ice cream.
Cooking note: Powdered sugar can be used to sprinkle on pies in lieu of granulated sugar if desired.
Source: Emeril Lagasse, adapted his book “Every Day Is a Party,” via Food Network.