Finding Blueberry Magic at Rush River Produce

I’m still a paper calendar kind of a gal. Every year dating back to 2005, whenever I transferred phone numbers for pediatricians, dentists, babysitters and handymen from one calendar to the next, I scribbled the following talismanic words: “Rush River Produce, Maiden Rock, WI (berries).” I had read a lovely article by Rick Nelson in a compilation of Best Food Writing for 2005 while we were living in Michigan and had off-handedly jotted down the name of the farm in case we ever moved back to Minnesota. We did move back but it took four years for me to finally type those words I had so faithfully transferred from calendar to calendar into the computer for a Google search. Friends, let me tell you, never has a bunch of chicken scratch paid off so sweetly, because as Mr. Nelson so aptly wrote, Rush River Produce is “in a word, paradise.”

On a steamy, sunny Friday morning I called to check if the blueberries were ready (as directed by the website) and received a hearty thumbs up from owner John Cuddy. I hurriedly threw together a bag with snacks, sunscreen and water, grabbed my camera, shooed my groggy children into the car, and was on the road by 9 a.m. Anyone with kids knows that not every adventure turns out as idyllically as planned. Sometimes it seems that there are rogue forces hell bent on derailing fun family excursions running the gamut from bug bites to bickering. But when the kids and I stepped out of the minivan an hour and a half later, stretching our legs and gazing at the beautiful Rush River Valley, I can honestly say we fell under a spell. A wonderful, calming, intoxicating spell that I can only attribute to something I overheard John’s wife,Terry, chirping into the cordless phone that she seems to carry around with her at all times: “All’s you need is time, fingers and taste buds!” An incantation for good times, if I’ve ever heard one.

John and Terry Cuddy purchased this beautiful piece of land with breathtaking views of the Rush River Valley and Lake Pepin in 1986. Given the property’s slope, the Cuddy’s sought to plant a permanent crop that would do well on a hill. Having heard about some hearty varieties of blueberries released by the University of Minnesota in the early 1980s, they decided to give blueberries a try, planting their first acre of North Blues in 1987 and adding one acre a year for the next four years. Today, 23 years, two sons, and countless hours of mulching, watering and pruning later, the Cuddys preside over nine gorgeous acres of land upon which they grow fourteen varieties of blueberries, which ripen mostly over the months of July and August, as well as red, black and white currants and gooseberries. This is to say nothing of the beautiful flower gardens and flowering vines that seem to frame every view.

With color faded prayer flags dancing in the breeze, statues scattered through out the gardens, and rows and rows of fat berries waiting patiently to be picked, the land feels like magic. It’s the kind of place where the sun seems to shine brighter and the shade seems to feel cooler. In fact, there’s a shady spot right by the house with a tire swing and a few picnic tables where I could have idled all day, snacking on berries, taking in the view, and chatting with the Cuddys and other visitors taking a break from picking.

Terry is a whirling dervish of activity and in the moments she sat to chat with me she still managed to greet every one who walked by, showing them where to get baskets and urging them to “eat as many berries as you can handle," while taking calls and good naturedly rattling off directions. John, as calm as Terry is loquacious, has a dry wit, a twinkle in his eye, and seems to be truly enjoying himself as he waves cars through to the parking area and traverses the grounds in an unhurried manner befitting the king of the hill. At the booth where you pick up baskets and stash your pickings, you’ll find the most adorable and helpful gaggle of young adults you can imagine, including the Cuddy’s two sons as well as a life-long neighbor buddy and a couple of girl friends, all of whom Terry calls “completely adoptable!”

But the real show stoppers are those blueberry bushes. Rows and rows of bushes laden with plump, velvety, deep purple berries that fall into buckets with a satisfying pitter patter at the slightest touch. There is something about picking blueberries that is so soothing and meditative. You need to pay just enough attention to train your eyes on the next best clump, but your mind is mostly free to wander, or curl up and lie still. My kids dove in with a concentration that surprised me. After the initial yelps of discovery and delight – “Oh man, look at THIS bush!” - they fell quiet and picked like old pros. Even when the sun got to be too much and we decided to take a break, it took a good 10 minutes to extricate ourselves from those bushes. “Ya, okay, let’s stop. Oh! Wait! “ Pitter patter pitter patter. “Okay. Stop!” Pitter patter pitter patter. NOW let’s stop!” Pitter patter. “Right after this branch.” Pitter patter pitter patter.

Grown using sustainable agriculture methods, the blueberries taste as they should: like summer and sky, rain and sun. They are simultaneously sweet and juicy, yet tart with a little bite to them, and as addictive as the day is long. My kids were in it for maximum volume, however, so aside from the little one who was on the one-in-the-bucket / one-in-the-mouth plan, they only snuck a few. We weighed out at four and a half pounds after a short easy morning that included lots of tire swinging and scampering around the rest of the grounds. As we drove away, the kids waved at John with purple stained fingers, and my son said “I feel like we just went on a vacation!”

They’ve been gorging on berries like ravenous bear cubs ever since, so if I want to try Terry’s fabulous blueberry pie recipe, I’m going to have to go back. When I have a little time, I’ll take my fingers and tastebuds and those of my loved ones, and soak in a little of that Rush River Produce magic as I fall under that spell again. It’s a good place to be.

The Cuddys recommend calling to see if there are berries before making the drive out. Their hours are Thursday through Sunday, 8 to 2 -- but if you're there by 2, you can pick for as long as you want.



Gabriela Lambert is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good and Tasty. Her last post for us was The Great Scape. You can also read more of her writing on her blog: