Picking Blueberries in Charleston, Tennessee

By guest blogger K.M. Weiland. Photos courtesy Amy Weiland.

FOR THE RECORD, I hate blueberries. Here at home in western Nebraska, I avoid them like lizard avoids the cold spot on a rock. So when I am given the opportunity to go blueberry picking in eastern Tennessee, I expect to enjoy the picking but not the fruit.

Am I in for a surprise!

We bump along the scenic back roads that line the vineyards of Charleston, Tennessee (about an hour south of Knoxville). Born and raised in the drought-ridden Midwest, I will never get over the verdant beauty of green oceans of kudzu vines and rugged pine trees climbing up from the red earth to touch the cloud-wisped skies. We turn into the Morris Vineyard & Tennessee Mountainview Winery and into view of the long rows of grape vines, the wide curly leaves somehow both fresh and ancient, the stems burdened under a burgeoning crop of muscadines and scuppernongs. A little farther down the road, we park in front of the expansive pale brick Visitor’s Center, Tasting Room & Store.

The soft humidity of the Tennessee afternoon engulfs me as I climb out of the van and collect my sturdy, plastic bag-lined bucket. It’s a daunting first sight. I’m supposed to fill this huge bucket with tiny blueberries? My second thought assures me that since I have no intention of eating any as I pick, I will have no trouble piling my bucket full. My friends and I walk the few yards to where the blueberry bushes stretch in neat rows, the imposing slate blue of the Smoky Mountains looming in the distance.

Picking blueberries in Tennessee

Picking blueberries in Tennessee

This late in the season, the second to last week in July, most of the bushes have been picked over by earlier customers. We catch our first glimpse of the dusky blue highlights among the leaves and spread out to gather our plunder. My bucket hooked over my arm, I pluck a single berry from the bush and roll its dusty burst of purple-blue between my thumb and forefinger. Could I really spend all afternoon in a field of blueberries and let myself get away without at least trying one?

Nose scrunched in anticipation of the pungent taste I’ve never been able to convince myself I like, I slip the berry onto my tongue and pop its warmth against the roof of my mouth. I’m thrilled to discover not the store-bought dilution I’m accustomed to, but rather a sweetness underlined by a seductive tartness. Suddenly, my chances of returning home with a full bucket aren’t looking so positive!

Back home in my non-vacationing life, a jam-packed schedule and poor soil have conspired to keep me out of the garden. But I love being close to the earth. I love the dry warmth of the soil under my knees as I kneel next to the bushes and duck under the branches to reach the clusters hidden near the bush’s center. The berries slip off the vine with barely a pinch and roll into the center of my palm. Those that aren’t immediately tossed into my mouth fall into the bucket with a soft thump and a rustle of the plastic bag.

The day's pickin's

The day's pickin's

I pick steadily for an hour, enjoying the shimmer of heat against the Smokies’ distant foothills, the gentle hum of my friends’ chatter and laughter, and the sweet smell of the fallen berries that I crush underfoot as I scoot a little farther into the bush to pluck one more handful.

My bucket is barely half full by the time we retreat to the Visitor’s Center to weigh our prizes. But our combined efforts produce enough berries to create a delicious blueberry crisp when we get back home. Sun-warmed and content, I lounge in a wooden chair at the kitchen table and load my spoon with vanilla ice cream and blue and purple dribbles of blueberry sweetness.

Suddenly, thanks to a wonderful afternoon at the Morris Vineyard, I’ve been converted to a lover of blueberries extraordinaire!

If you’re interested in scheduling a blueberry-picking venture of your own the next time you’re planning a trip East, you can contact Morris Vineyard by calling (423) 479-7311, writing them at 346 Union Grove Rd NE, Charleston, TN 37310, or emailing them via their contact form. Morris Vineyard is open daily 11-7, Sundays 12-7, and 9-8 during fruit season. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.


K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. Her second novel, Behold the Dawn, a story of redemption in the Third Crusade, is scheduled for release in October. She blogs at Wordplay and AuthorCulture.

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  1. Judy Clement Wall says:

    K, What a wonderful description of your day. Felt like I was right there with you. I’ve never really liked blue berries either… Maybe I need to pick them myself!

  2. Lois Eighmy says:

    I’ve always loved blueberries. When I was little, I lived in South Berwick, Maine and we used to go to a place we called Blueberry Hill and would pick to our heart’s content. This article brought back good memories! 🙂

  3. Charleston Tennessee is such a pretty area. Just reading your post makes me want to drive out and pick blueberries to make a pie for July 4th next week!
    .-= Cool Springs Franklin´s last blog ..Franklin Bicycle Store Opens =-.

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