Benson’s Blues

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Story by Lynne Bertrand | Cover photo by Georgia Teensma

NOTE: The U-Pick information in our issue was incorrect - it has been updated below to reflect that Benson Place is open for U-pick on Saturday and Sunday once the season opens, with weekday picking available by appointment. 

On a Saturday morning in the dog days of summer, you can drive to the intersection of Middle and Nowhere, otherwise known as Heath, then hang a right up a dirt road through the forest till the way dead-ends at a rugged, windswept farm. This is the Benson Place. Mt. Greylock is visible from here, 25 miles to the west; so is the Du Bois Library tower, 40 miles southeast at UMass. The view is well worth the drive, but it’s not everything. This is a nearly 35-acre low-bush blueberry barren, with thousands of perfect indigo spheres ripening in sweet profusion as far as the eye can see. Even black bears, the true hipster foodies of the fowrest, come from as far away as Conway to PYO blues.

This place was known by early settlers as Burnt Mountain. The native nations who lived in these hills learned from their cousins in the future state of Maine to set fire to sections of wild blueberries in the spring. This kept the plants in rotation, with infinite production. Meredith Wecker and Andrew Kurowski, who own and manage this barren now, continue that practice. Upwards of 15 tons of blueberries will come off this mountain by the second week in August. In about an hour of leisurely raking with hand-held, comb-edged scoops, 20 pounds of them can be yours.

Blueberry season in Heath is typically the third week of July through the second week of August. Open u-picking is offered on Saturdays and Sundays; with arrival between 9am and 2pm. In high season there will be a wait to run your harvest through the winnowing machine, which sorts off the leaves and twigs. Pre-orders for blueberries and reservations for weekday U-pick slots may be made online from July 1. Prices are listed online as well. Several coop markets are carrying Benson’s certified organic blues this summer, and berries will be available at drop-off locations around the Valley.

For picking and ordering information, and detailed driving directions visit BensonPlace.org

Lynne Bertrand is a freelance writer who lives in Williamsburg. Georgia Teensma is a freelance photographer and a second-year student at Hampshire College.

Recipe for Blueberry Dutch Pancake here

On the Cutting Edge

By Chris Figge as told to Mary Reilly | Photographs by Georgia Teensma

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No matter what’s on the menu, a knife is usually the first kitchen tool I reach for. A dull knife, however, can be a danger to your ingredients and to your fingers.

There are several ways to keep your knives in shape, and one of the easiest, most convenient, and least expensive is the use of a water or oil stone.

Most stones are two-sided and for most of us a 400/1000 stone will do the job. knife_3

The first step is to lubricate the stone. If you want to use water, it’s easiest to soak the stone in water for five minutes before you start sharpening. If you want to use oil, make sure you are using a non-petroleum-based food-grade oil. Squirt or brush a layer of oil over the top of your stone. (The stone manufacturer may specify oil or water. If not, you may use either, but  know that while you can oil a stone than has been used with water, you can’t do the reverse.)

Place the stone (coarse grit side up) on a dishtowel or mat so it doesn’t slide around while you’re sharpening.

With both hands, hold the knife on the spine (the dull edge). Use your index and middle fingers on the top side and your thumb underneath.

Hold the knife at a 22° angle and gently but firmly, push it away from you and across the stone—it should feel like you’re trying to scrape a thin layer off the top of the stone. Do not use a lot of pressure, the weight of your hands should be enough.

You can sharpen the entire length of the knife by sliding it sideways across the stone as you push forward. (You can also sharpen in sections the width of whetstone. As each section is sharpened, move to the next section, overlapping sections slightly.)

After 10–20 passes on one side of the knife, turn it over and repeat the process with the other side. When the edge is sharp, flip over the stone and repeat the process with the fine grit side of your stone. Stop when your knife is sharp.

To keep the edge sharp, use a steel. A steel does not sharpen a knife; it simply realigns the knife edge after it’s started to go dull. Working at a 22° angle, run your blade along your steel, gliding it down and across the steel to make contact with the entire edge of the knife. For best results, “steel” your knife each time you use it.

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Store your sharp knives in a knife block, on a magnetic strip mounted to the wall, or in a knife roll. Never store knives loose in a drawer.

 

 

Chris Figge is an artisanal baker, practical joker, herbalist, and handyman. He co-founded The Haberdashery in March 2014 with wife, Melody.

Georgia Teensma (photographs) is a freelance photographer and a second-year student at Hampshire College.

The Haberdashery
Goods & Guidance for Crafty Homesteaders
52 Union St., Easthampton ◆ 413-527-1638
ValleyHaberdashery.com

 

Thank you always to Ed Jones for the knives we used in this story.