Erwins’ blueberries ready for snacking or baking

Published 10:09 am Wednesday, July 9, 2014

ZUNI—These days you’re likely to find Janet Erwin keeping cool under the shade of a tent where she’s recently started selling the first fruits of the summer. Blueberries just came into season, and she and her husband, J.M., anticipate they will have plenty for people to pick through about the middle of August at their stand on 5206 Ducktown Road in Zuni.

Gavenn Erwin and his grandmother, Janet Erwin of Zuni, show off a container of blueberries picked at her place. She and her husband, J.M., have been selling the berries they grow at their home for several years. -- STEPHEN H. COWLES | TIDEWATER NEWS

Gavenn Erwin and his grandmother, Janet Erwin of Zuni, show off a container of blueberries picked at her place. She and her husband, J.M., have been selling the berries they grow at their home for several years. — STEPHEN H. COWLES | TIDEWATER NEWS

“We have three kinds to ripen in succession,” she added while pointing toward the field where approximately 20 rows of bushes are growing with 1,200 bushes total.

“It’s a lot,” said Gavenn Erwin, 11, one of her grandsons who sort of helps out while he’s visiting the Erwins.

Gathering a gallon’s worth of blueberries can take 30 to 45 minutes, and recently a customer spent two hours picking six gallons, she added. The couple will hire a neighbor or two for the part-time work. Janet also rides out in a golf cart a couple of times a day to help pick for customers that don’t want to do the labor.

“We’re ahead,” she said about the stockpile that’s been gathered so far.

By J.M.’s estimation, they’ve been growing and selling blueberries for eight or nine years.

The Erwins, originally from Mississippi, came to Virginia through his work with the construction company Skanska in the 1980s. They lived in the Port Norfolk section of Portsmouth, which allowed them only two parking spaces and too-close views of their neighbors. A situation that eventually propelled them to seek somewhere else to live.

“We started looking for land after church on Sundays and traveled every road here,” said Janet. “We just wanted space around us. We started with 22 acres and now have 60.”

Her husband’s not a TV watcher and wasn’t about to start when the time came to retire.

Instead, as a hobby over the years they established not only the blueberries, but also apples, figs and plums; peaches are expected to be ready as early as this weekend. The Erwins are even selling produce from their garden, and Bermuda hay is also available for sale.

“It’s a hobby. I wanted something to do,” said J.M., who also explained that it took five to six years to get to this point with the blueberries. To get started, he bought two-year-old seedlings from a North Carolina nursery that specializes in that crop.

“I do all the easy stuff, and he does all the hard stuff,” Janet said with a light laugh about their individual responsibilities.

“We love being outdoors. We love it out here in the country,” she added in praise of the lifestyle and the people who live around them. Both have inspired the Erwins to establish an honor system when it comes to picking and paying for the berries. Rarely have they been ripped off, said Janet.

However, each has agreed that their hobby-turned-business has gotten somewhat out of control, and anticipate they’ll eventually cut back on cultivating the peaches. For now, the flavor of summer awaits.

Pre-picked blueberries cost $3 a pint; $24 per gallon; self-picked berries cost $2 a pint; and $16 a gallon.

There are no strict hours of selling, but generally the stand is open from 7:30 or 8 a.m. to 7:30 or 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

For more information, call Janet at 646-5030 or J.M. at 620-1506.

Blueberry Cake and Icing
By Juanita Alphin

4 eggs, separated

2 cups sugar

1 cup butter

2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups blueberries

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups sifted plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2/3 cup milk

Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold in 1/2 cup sugar. Cream butter with salt, vanilla and remaining sugar. Add egg yolks. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with milk. Fold in egg whites and then blueberries coated with 2 tablespoons flour. Pour into three greased and floured 9” pans Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes. Apply icing between layers and on top


8 ounces cream cheese

1/2 cup butter

1 pound box 10x sugar (confectioners)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Blueberry-Cream Pie
By Janet Erwin

Makes 8 servings

1 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

2-1/2 cups fresh blueberries

1 9-inch pastry shell, unbaked

3 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons butter, softened

3 tablespoons pecans or walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine sour cream, 2 tablespoons flour, sugar, vanilla, salt and egg. Beat 5 minutes at medium speed with an electric mixer or until smooth. Fold in blueberries. Pour filling into unbaked pastry shell. Bake for 25 minutes. In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons flour, butter and chopped nuts, stirring well. Sprinkle over top of pie. Bake for 10 minutes. Chill before serving.

Blueberry Cake
By Janet Erwin

1 cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 pint fresh blueberries or

2 cups canned blueberries, drained and rinsed

Preheat oven to 325. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time and beat until fluffy. Add vanilla. Sift dry ingredients together. Reserve 1 cup flour mixture. Add remaining flour to batter; beat well. Dredge berries in reserved flour. Fold gently into batter. Spoon into greased and floured tube pan. Bake for 1-1/4 hours

Note: Grease pan with butter and “flour” with sugar.