The summer hunt and peck

What makes you sure that summer has arrived?  For me, berry-picking wraps me in summer’s embrace like nothing else.  Plus, it has got to be the most cost-effective way to eat a lot of berries ($2.00/lb….YEEEES!), and you do want to consume a ridiculous amount of berries.  They are packed with anti-cancer, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory compounds, all while being pro-delicious.

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So friend, get out there and pick as many berries as you can!  Not only because it is cheaper than buying them at the store, not only because they are ridiculously good for you, but also because you can pick organic.  Berries don’t have a protective skin, which means they have greater concentrations of pesticides than most fruits.  I like U-pick berries because many farmers offer organic U-pick at a good price. 

This year I am not messing around.  I am hell-bent on picking every kind of berry—strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and whatever else I can find—before the season bows out to make way for fall.  I had to do a little geographical triage to make this happen (i.e., I was not in Seattle during strawberry U-pick time, so I had to pick strawberries in upstate New York even though the season there was pretty terrible and I had to drive an hour and a half to find a farm that still had decent berries).  But I am determined to get the experience of harvesting every kind of fruit I can, particularly berries. 

What, what, you say?  Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are not berries?  Well good for you, and touché; the hallmark of a true berry is a fruit with interior seeds, something about superior ovaries, and probably some other additional nonsensical, botanical, taxonomical criteria.  The strawberry is technically an accessory fruit.  The raspberry?  A composite fruit.  The blueberry gets close—out of this crew, it is the only one that even gets “berry” in there, with the distinction of being a “false berry”.  I bet it feels pretty bad about having an inferior ovary.  (Maybe that’s why it’s called a blueberry.)  I don’t feel bad about any of this though—I can pick them, and they are delicious.

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Which fruits, then, are true berries, you may be wondering?  Examples include the tomato, the currant, the grape, and the persimmon.  And let me tell you, if I could find a U-pick persimmon outfit in the greater Seattle area, I would not be sitting here writing about false berries.  I would be out picking even more fruit to cram into my freezer, indulging in an afternoon of foraging under pristine skies and clear sunshine.

Which brings me to my point: foraging.  Hunting and gathering is what makes berry-picking (false or otherwise) so much fun and so rewarding.  Other than the end product, which is a proud hoard of inexpensive and delicious fruit, the main attraction of berry-picking is gathering it myself.  Yes, I do have a lot of help.  Bing locates the U-pick farm, our trusty GPS, Margaux, directs me there with her calm, reassuring voice, and the farmers, bless them, have grown so many fruitful plants in such nice, straight rows.  And I don’t even have to stain the skirt of my dress, because look at that, they’ve provided cardboard flats for collecting the fruit. 

But still, I am working a lot harder for my food than I normally do.  I like that.  I zone out, enjoying a different kind of productivity that affords my mind time to wander.  Sometimes, I drift so far that I forget to peck a little at the lovely jewels before me.  The sun beats down, sweat trickles down my face, and the warm, juicy berries lazily drip into my box.  It takes a long time to harvest a respectable amount.  Every pint of produce at the grocery store now seems more impressive.  Good things always take more work.  I don’t have any pictures of me picking berries, but I do have this great photo of Jonathan sticking a berry on my face:

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Summer feels eternal in the berry fields, as one by one the rich nuggets drop into my crate.  They are bursting with sun.  I feel a little like a gold-panner who has struck it rich, and the prize is endless long days graced with warmth and abundance.

But summer is fleeting, and the berries are proof.  Come September, they disappear from grocery stores or their price makes a pie embarrassingly expensive.  Even when my most recent batch of fresh-picked raspberries arrived home, it was quickly evident that they have been severed from their life line.  They seemed so strong, so everlasting, that I forgot their fragility.  Left out, mold started sprouting within just a day or two, and I hesitatingly began moving them into the freezer.

But still, there are so many and it feels so luxurious.  Not limited to thawed lumps or a few fresh drupes sprinkled on cereal, no, not me!  I can make two pies or three, eat them by handfuls, and experiment.  At the last possible minute, the remainders are deposited in the freezer, only to be withdrawn on a cold day without sunshine. 

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Until then, blueberries are up next, and anything else I manage to hunt down and gather.  I am getting my fill of summer, which also includes a healthy dose of giant bubble blowing.

What about you?  Have you done your summer hunt and peck–or whatever else about the season makes you feel most alive?

I would be remiss without including a recipe…

Raspberry-Rose Gin Rickey (From Bon Appétit) (Serves 4)

The most surprisingly delicious use of my berries so far this summer!  I had rose water on hand, but opted not to use it. 

3 cups fresh raspberries

1 cup gin

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 teaspoon rose water

3 cups crushed ice

Mix first 5 ingredients in a bowl.  Let stand for 1 hour; stir occasionally and crush some of the berries.  Place 3/4 cup ice in each of 4 glasses.  Top each with 3/4 cup raspberry mixture.

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