“When Ruth (Curtis) first came to Gilford the blueberries were growing wild on the mountain -- the fields were literally blue in August – … 50-75 acres.” These words, recorded by Susan Greene in her September 1, 1994 interview of Ruth and H. Leslie Curtis, are part of the oral histories in the archives of Gilford’s Thompson-Ames Historical Society.
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Blueberry Season is here again!
How appropriate that we share these words now, for it is again blueberry season –time when many a folk, their mouths watering in anticipation, snatch up a basket or pail and go in search of the small, sweet, wild blueberries! Blueberries were so plentiful in Gilford that harvesting them is part of our town’s cultural history.
According to Susan Greene’s report, the Curtises harvested blueberries from 1941 until 1969 and “during the war Ruth was in charge of the blueberry crew, giving them instructions on picking, and organizing the effort.”
The report includes information about how the Curtises managed the blueberry fields. “In the spring and fall they cut the bushes with Nelson Page a former (Gilford) selectman. One third of the property would be cut at a time. The fields were burned on a rotating basis too, in the spring; the biggest parcel being the ‘mountain’ … some 30 acres. The idea was to prune the bushes and stimulate the new stems underground to grow larger in the summer season and produce more berries. The ash residue from the burning would provide potassium for growth.
“The season lasted 2-3 weeks; the berries started on the fourth of July … the greatest bulk of the berries came the last week of July and the first two weeks of August.
“The pickers were local kids and kids here for the summer, with adult supervision, of course. A picker would pick 150 quarts a day. There were 24 quarts to a crate, 20 kids to a crew, which equals 3,000 quarts a day or 125 crates a day. All these berries would go to the Boston market. The berries were graded by the grader that Leslie (Curtis) designed and built. (Les was an engineer at Scott & Williams.) It has since been dismantled and burned.”
The archives of Gilford’s historical society include a copy of the article “Blueberry Hill” which was published in the July, 1964 issue of New Hampshire Profiles. Featured is the blueberry efforts of the Curtises; the photographs by C. G. Brickett captured the enterprise far better than could words alone.
Susan Greene’s interview, referring to other blueberry enterprises in the vicinity, states, “Maurice Watson (Bob Watson’s father) and Bill Smith (WW Smith) worked together picking and grading berries too. (The berries) were graded and packed for shipment at Watson’s and at Smith’s. Malcolm Harrington of Hillcrest Farm on the White Oaks Road harvested blueberries near Sam Grant’s farm. Ruth believes the Kardinal Farm in Gilmanton is one of the last area farms to harvest.”
The topic of blueberries always leads to swapping of tales shared by folks who eagerly recall their personal experiences blueberrying.
One of these was recorded by June Osgood on January 20, 1994 when she interviewed Stanley Osgood about Gilford’s Varney Point, formerly called the Grove on Smith Cove. Speaking of the hill area before it was developed, Stan Osgood stated, “We had our own path up through our woods, so we could pick berries – blueberries and raspberries.… Father and I picked the berries, Mother did the canning.… (And) down by the boat yard, (the) area was wetlands at the time, with many high bush blueberries, he’d walk down with his berry boxes…. The blueberry bush area is now the boat yard, and was filled in with sand. I guess you’d call the area a marsh, when the blueberry bushes were growing there. But the ground was solid enough to stand on while picking the berries. Except in the spring when it was very wet, and the water came up over the road, making Varney Point an island.”
In 1995 when materials were being gathered to publish the book Gunstock Parish, A History of Gilford, New Hampshire, June Osgood submitted a photograph that was selected and printed on page 199. It is a 1905 photo of three ladies off to the blueberry fields, with the caption, “Young ladies going a-berrying, chaperoned by Celinda (‘Birdie’) Bates of Glendale. Blueberries were the delight of summer Gilford visitors and natives alike.”
Stanley Piper, who lived at the Daniel Webster Home in Franklin in the late 1930s, vividly recalls blueberrying.. He recently reminisced, “Busses transported about twenty of us boys up to the Belknap Mountain parking area. From there we fanned out and climbed up the mountain to where the wild low-bush blueberries grew -- we had to be cautious to stay in view of the bus driver and matron who had accompanied us.” He paused a moment and then went on to say, “We ate many a berry as we attempted to fill our square wooden berry boxes -- about a quart in size -- and then returned to the bus. When we arrived back at the Home, we carried the boxes of berries into the kitchen. ‘Ma’ Bush made blue berry cakes for everyone. Not only was the dessert delicious but also it was a happy time for us children because it was time away from the Home when we could do something together.”
If you, too, have fond memories of blueberrying in Gilford, please do share them with Thompson-Ames Historical Society. Our e-mail address is as follows: email@example.com.
In the meantime, good luck berrying again this August. And bon appetite!