Celebrating the Maine Blueberry

April 18, 2017   4 Comments »

I heard the woman yell out to the little kids passing by, “Learn about farming AND get to see baby pigs!”

Even though I knew her sales pitch wasn’t for adults, she had me at “baby pigs”.  It’s hard to compete with the glitz of midway rides, cotton candy, and corn dogs; but the people at the 4H booth were luring people in with baby pigs;  an awesome strategy!

I walked through the 4H farming exhibit meant for kids and learned a ton about blueberries and farming in Maine. Plus, I had fun surprising a few of the presenters, who looked at me wondering why there weren’t kids with me. I looked at them and said, “Baby pigs aren’t just for kids.”

Union Fair’s Maine Blueberry Festival

Not all travel or vacations have to be about beaches, spas, and tours. You can travel to more local events, like the Union Fair Maine Wild Blueberry Festival, to get a real feel for the community. And based on my experience, they will welcome you with open arms, and temp you with a few baby pigs.

We all know that Maine and blueberries go hand in hand, so I was pretty excited to do more than just eat blueberries on my trip in Maine, I went to a whole festival about blueberries!

The Maine Wild Blueberry Festival at Union Fair was born in 1960 as a method of promoting the industry in Maine. However I think the secondary goal of the festival is my favorite – to find the best blueberry pie maker in the coastal area! Mrs. George Cole won that competition in 1960.

Back then there was also a children’s pie eating contest, and a Blueberry Queen pageant crowning a lucky local girl to represent the blueberry industry for the year. Not much as changed through the years, but more blueberry and non-blueberry events have been added.

What Can You Expect At the Maine Wild Blueberry Festival?

Blueberries…duh.
I eat blueberries regularly with my yogurt, but that’s where my relationship with blueberries ends. I never knew you could do so much with blueberries until I went to the festival! In fact, I didn’t even know how blueberries grew or were harvested until I walked through the kid’s 4H farm exhibit to see the baby pigs.

midway

Midway at the Maine Blueberry Festival

Blueberry Spitting Contest

A little plastic mat with numbers indicating distances was rolled out as if it were a red carpet. Kids and adults were excitedly signing up to compete in this epic battle. I watched in anticipation as blueberry spitting was a whole new world to me I knew nothing about! I quickly learned the key to blueberry spitting was to use frozen blueberries. They are easier to spit and you can get a more velocity.

Children and adults put their toes on the line of the little plastic mat and took their shots. It was fun to see the different techniques; some people barely moved a muscle, and some had a whole sort of wind up to their form. And some accidentally swallowed them!

Blueberry Court

The tiara, sash, and gown; who doesn’t want to be a queen? The Blueberry Queen is crowned each year at the festival as a main event. There are only a few requirements to be a member of the court. All the women must be high school graduates between 17-22 years, single, be a Maine resident, and be sponsored by a Maine blueberry grower or processor.

There is no talent competition, however there is a writing aspect to the crowning. Each princess must write a personal essay reflecting who they are, future plans, why they want to be Blueberry Queen. I think I could write a whole novel on why I want to be the Blueberry Queen, but sadly I passed by that age maximum quite a while ago!

I watched as the young women got their hair and makeup done getting ready for the big procession. They each were driven around the grandstand in old convertibles before the crowning. The crowned Blueberry Queen represents the Maine Blueberry growers for the year at various events, festivals, and parades. I would also hope that the Queen gets some sort of unlimited supply of blueberries…

Blueberry Pie Baking Contest

The ‘Maine’ event is the two crusted blueberry pie baking contest. I walked into the Blueberry exhibition hall and saw a couple of local reporters – so I knew this must be a big deal. Metal folding chairs were positioned around a couple of long tables that represented ‘the stage’ Beautifully latticed pies were placed on the table just waiting to be judged.

Anyone can enter the contest – there were no restrictions on gender or age. Entrants must simply include the recipe and a pie. However, there are rules for the pie itself – the only fruit allowed in the pie is the Maine wild blueberry, although you may use lemon for flavoring. And you may only bake it in a glass pie dish.

I walked around and observed the 10 pies before the judging began. They were works of art that reminded me of my grandmother who was a master baker. The one question that kept going through my head as I surveyed these delicious looking pies – how does one get to be a judge?!

Judges are locals who are involved in cooking in the community. There were 3 judges and they represented various food backgrounds. One was the head of food service for public schools, another was a medical/nutrition manager for seniors, and there was also a pastry chef. I envied those judges as they had surveyed the pie crusts and tasted each one. The pies are judged on “preparation, texture, flavor and overall appearance of both the crust and the pie filling”.

I took a seat on a folding chair and chatted with the locals around me as the judging began. After nearly two hours of serious judging and tasting, the prize was awarded; a trophy, $100, and most importantly – bragging rights.

Blueberry Pie Eating Contest

Of course I can’t even see the words “pie eating contest” without thinking about the famous blueberry pie scene in the movie Stand By Me. I was more than intrigued to see kids eat huge amounts of pie so I actually stayed late into the afternoon so I could see the contest take place.

All you really need is a healthy appetite for blueberries, be 12 years old or younger, and have no regard for cleanliness. They gave each kid a nice white t-shirt, kneeled them down at a long table with a pie in front of them, and the competition began! They had 3 minutes to finish as much of the pie as they could without using their hands. Some kids dove right in head first (tended to be the boys), and some were more strategic about their pie eating plan (the girls). In general it appeared that the winners weren’t necessarily the ones that were the dirtiest afterwards.

Beyond Blueberries

Whoopie Pie Competition

What’s that? You’ve never heard of a whoopie pie, neither had I until the festival! When I asked a local what it was I did get a surprised ‘you must not be from around here’ look. Whoopie pie is one of Maine’s best known and most loved comfort foods. A whoopie pie is sort of like a sandwich, but made with two soft cookies with a fluffy white filling. In Maine it’s about the size of a hamburger…so make sure you are hungry.

The competition was much like the blueberry pie competition, however the judges weren’t quite as ‘qualified’. I found it funny that all of the judges were men. When I asked one of them why he was a judge, he said I eat a lot of whoopie pies. Good enough I guess. And the best part about this competition, whatever was left over after the judging was given away to the people watching!

4H Contests and Ribbons

I was a 4H kid – I competed in painting, sketching, baking and more through 4H when I was growing up. If you aren’t familiar with 4H, it’s a long-standing non-profit community promoting life skills, leadership, and hands on learning for kids. It was formed with a desire to make public school education more connected to country life.

I loved the 4H booths that highlight photography, art, baking, and livestock shows. It’s always fun to walk through and see the livestock up close…really close! That’s not something I get to do everyday. Seeing all of the 4H ribbons and displays took me on a trip down memory lane for me and brought me closer to my rural upbringing again.

The festival also includes a truck pull, harness racing, concerts, and an actual demolition derby. You want a glimpse of the rural US, you got it right here at Union Fair!

I know that most people aren’t going to plan a whole vacation to a destination to go to a rural fair. However, it can be a wonderful addition to your vacation and give you the opportunity to really experience the local flavor and culture of an area. I had a blast the whole day meeting people and watching all of the events. It was authentic, local travel. You will definitely meet locals and get a feeling for the rural side of Maine. And if you are lucky, you might even get to eat a few pieces of pie and see baby pigs.

How to Immerse Yourself in Maine Blueberries

Union Fair Maine Wild Blueberry Festival Website 
2017 Union Fair Maine Blueberry Festival is held August 19-26 this year so mark your calendar and start practicing your spitting techniques!

Find a list of all Maine Festivals

 

Follow my Travels.


Disclosure:

I was a guest of Visit Maine on this trip, however all opinions here are my own1!



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