“Blue teeth, blue hands, blue mouth, everything, yeah…”
The blueberries are plump and plentiful out Klukwan way these days. And residents like Marsha Warner, who you just heard, Lani Kotch and Joanne Spud are getting creative with how they use the nutrient-packed fruit.
Food was just part of the focus at this weekend’s Blueberry Festival. There was also poetry and art, blueberry items for sale and student projects.
Friday at the ANS hall in Klukwan, those blueberry-themed poems, artwork, and jars of jam outnumbered the people by a lot. But it didn’t stop organizer Spud from churning out stacks of blueberry pancakes. She says this year’s blueberry crop was above average.
“It must have been four or five years ago that popped up on my page the other day where I had made a comment that I had picked 12 blueberries, so that must have been a terrible year. A lot of people have gone out five or more times,” she said
As for staying quiet about the best spots to find copious crops, Spud says she doesn’t intentionally hide where she goes to harvest berries and has enjoyed sharing the bounty she gathers.
“And I don’t try to be secretive but they say ‘were you on Sunshine Mountain or Flower Mountain?’ Well, people could tell me every day for a year that’s Flower Mountain, that’s Sunshine Mountain and I’ll get there and I don’t know which mountain it was.”
Klukwan resident Marsha Warner says picking blueberries is a family affair and a time for strengthening community bonds.
“Definitely it’s subsistence living here in the village. And so, like I said, I’ve gone out with my dad and a couple of my aunts and an uncle,” she said “I’ve met people and become closer with them because I’ve gone out with other families here in the village and it’s definitely something that brings you together.”
Warner is known around the community as a master blueberry picker. She says she’s gone about eight times so far this year and she’s hoping for a couple more picking expeditions before the berries are gone. All those trips added up to between 10 and 13 gallons of berries. She says with a smile, that it might have been more, but for every few that went in the bucket, one got eaten.
“This year, I was waiting for the blueberries because that’s my favorite, and I’ve gone out with family and friends from the village and every time I think ‘it’s not going to be as good as last time’ and it is,” she said. “And so it just makes me want to go back again to find those blueberries that just hanging there and so large this year.”
Something new for locals and visitors to try at this year’s festival was blueberry vinaigrette and a fizzy, fermented beverage with a blueberry twist. Lani Hotch was giving out samples of her homemade health drink in hopes that people would buy it by the bottle.
“Well, I’ve got some blueberry Kombucha,” Hotch said. “It’s something that I’ve been drinking for over a year now and I really enjoy it and it’s got all sorts of health benefits. And so I’m selling it here more as a health promotional idea because it’s helped me so much that I want to see other people get turned onto it and start drinking it and be healthier.”
The people who tried it seemed to like it, she says, though a lot hadn’t heard of it before the Blueberry Festival.
“People aren’t familiar with it and are kind of scared of it and they don’t know what to think of it and so yeah, I’m just giving a little sample and see how they like it and sometimes people end up buying some, too.”
Meanwhile, back at the festival, the tables full of paintings, crafts and poems captured how well-loved these tiny, tart treasures are. The winning poem in the adult category was written by Spud and reads:
It’s not just a blueberry
On the mountain, it draws out the giggle of a child and the laughter of men and women as they pick blueberries and share stories.
At home, it draws mothers and daughters to the kitchen to make jam, jelly and pie.
Fathers and sons join mothers and daughters at the table to enjoy jam, jelly and pie.
Later, a village gathering, the mixed berries are served and you hear the whispers ‘is it real blueberries or store-bought?’
It’s not just a blueberry, it’s a Chilkat blueberry.