As soon as June hits, Texas blueberries settle into their dusky blue hues,
after a long, mood-ring-like season that sees them change from green to light pink to purple. If they survive perilous late-spring frosts, they’re ready to harvest from late May through July. That’s when these squishable pods burst with finger-staining nectars, heralding summer with the fruits of sweet fellowship.
Each year, the journey to a good blueberry crop is threatened by elements beyond the control of Texas farmers and horticulturists. But all planters start their season hopeful. Charle Fox, the farm manager of Twin Oaks, Texas A&M University-Commerce’s blueberry farm in Campbell, Texas, says blueberry bushes are weak until they’re three years old. Extreme heat can cause a bush to burn top-down. After year three, they’re pretty hearty. At age four, they’re considered to be functioning at full-production potential.
Because Dallas’ clay soil is unfavorable to the acidic needs of blueberry bushes, Twin Oaks’ 14 acres of land lie in a small sliver of sandy loam soil. Located about an hour’s drive from downtown Dallas, the farm was founded 20 years ago. Texas A&M took over the property in January 2010, and this year marks its fifth blueberry season. Fox and her crew of helpers grow Rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei) on 175 mature bushes. The berries tolerate the heat and cold well, have a high concentration of antioxidants, and are a relatively easy crop to grow. There are six different varieties of Rabbiteyes: TifBlue, Brightwell, Climax, Premier, Delight, and Woodard. Each ripens at a different time.
Visitors can fill an entire bucket (about a gallon) with these marble-shaped beauties for $20 to $25, depending on availability. If you go in early to mid-June, you’ll find Climax and Premier, the earliest varieties ready for picking. (These are Fox’s favorites.) TifBlue, though, is a July baby. For tartness, the Delight variety is best. “We have some blueberries with a thicker skin than others, and those are better for freezing,” Fox says.
Purple-colored blueberries are fine for baking pies and making jam, but if you want to eat yours fresh, you’ll want the berry to be an even blue. (Hint: Under-ripened purple berries can be left unrefrigerated for a day or two to finish ripening.) Texture is important, too.
The hardest part of any visit to Twin Oaks is waiting until you get home to dig into your bounty of blueberries. Be sure to chill them in the refrigerator for an hour or so before you toss them in your mouth; this firms up your berries and makes them easier to rinse under cool water, which you can do right before eating.