Woman Enough

Kerplink, Kerplank, Kerplunk!

Posted in Uncategorized by womanenough on August 29, 2011

I’ve got berries on my mind, sparked by this story about North Haven Island’s “slightly scandalous” blueberry tart.

Here in Maine, August means blueberry season. You’ll find roadside farm stands selling tiny wild blueberries every few miles as you drive the state’s primary roads.

Maine’s berries are of the low bush variety, and they are sweeter than the larger, high bush versions found in the rest of the country. Maybe that’s an unfair value judgment, but I think it’s probably true.

When I was in school, many of my classmates would spend the last two weeks of summer raking berries, a process that involves bending over the low bush plants for hours, harvesting ripe and unripe berries, as well as leaves, with a rake the strips the entire plant. Then the berries must be sorted before they can be sold.

My family spent August in a house with blueberry fields on two sides. We picked the berries by hand, plucking only the ripest berries from each plant. It took three times longer than raking, but it meant a longer harvest.

For a few weeks out of the year, blueberries went into everything. Baked goods, breakfast cereal, salads, and sauces. Three blueberries gained admission to the puppet shows put on in a neighbor’s barn. “Picking berries” was a free pass to leave the house, half way into the field by the time I heard the screen door slam behind me.

I sat for hours in those fields and left with purple and blue stains on the seat of my pants where I’d sat on a bush or two by accident. While I picked, my imagination took a little stretch. I have done some of my best daydreaming squatting in a blueberry field.

It took hours, sometimes days to pick enough berries for a pie. What started as an imagined pie might turn into a cake, then muffins, then a few berries sprinkled on pancakes, as I became more realistic about my patience and its yield.

But sometimes I’d pick the six cups of berries necessary for a pie, and those pies were the best on earth. The berries were free, foraged from the land, and better than any berry you’d buy in the grocery store. They were warm from the sun or covered with dew in the early morning, and you had to get to them before the gulls and crows picked the fields bare.

It sounds trite, but blueberry picking is an iconic part of my Maine childhood, and I’m not the only one.

2011 has been a terrible year for the berry crop. Yesterday’s rain likely did in what was left of the harvest. I may need to scratch the blueberry tart itch with a DIY felted version instead of the real deal, but there will be some family farms that are really hurting.

For me, it’s blueberries that call to mind long summer days with an aching back and stinging sunburn on my neck. In Atlantic Canada, there is quite a tradition around harvesting bakeapples, for which each plant only produces one berry. What are your essential summer harvests? Your iconic berry memories?

Lead illustration from Blueberries for Sal from Robert McCloskey.

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