Mmm, delicious, juicy…yes, I will take another and another and another.
What am I talking about? Berries. Freshly picked strawberries, blueberries, blackberries or raspberries. Growing up in Maine gives you all of these pleasures, and you don’t have to go very far to find them. My dear mother (an avid canning queen) always took me and my two sisters berry picking, no matter the berry in season–we picked what was available and abundant.
The first berry of the summer season is always the strawberry. My mom would collect all of our containers, large Tupperware bowls, baskets and yes, even large pots, pack them up in our station wagon and away we would go. Two towheaded girls and me, the brunette, following our mom to check in at the weight stand at a field filled with acres and acres of fresh strawberries just waiting to be picked. For those of you who don’t know: when you bring your own containers, they must weigh them at the stand first to get the tare so that at the end that weight isn’t included in the weight of the strawberries. My mom would always make the same joke to the farmer, “You sure you don’t want to weigh my girls before we go in and on the way out?”
We were all under the age of eight, so of course more strawberries went in our bellies than in the baskets. But we were very proud to help our mom, so we contributed a few strawberries to the containers. I fondly remember my sisters’ faces and hands stained with red berry juice, and of course I looked just like them. Anyone who has picked strawberries at a field must remember the straw sticking to their bottom. Once we got home, we would begin the process of plucking the leaves from the strawberries with special strawberry pluckers. My mother would get the ingredients ready to make jam, pies and, of course, strawberry shortcake with homemade whipped cream.
When it comes to blueberry picking, Mainers are quite lucky because we have exactly what you have heard: “wild” Maine blueberries. There are many farms that you can pay to pick, but we had a great private spot to pick where the berries were free and wild. I remember going to a place just east of us. At this particular location, the low bushes grew rampant on a stretch of the road where no houses were built. Bug spray was a necessity, but once again the girls in braids and pigtails, armed with bowls and buckets, picked one, ate one and so on and so forth. We had blue stained hands and mouths, but no one to joke about weighing us. Once we filled our buckets, it was back home for more jamming, baking and filling freezer bags to enjoy our berries all year round. My favorite recipe was Blueberry Cake, an old recipe from my great grandmother, so moist and sweet that to this day I still drool just thinking about it.
The end of summer always brought the joys of blackberry and raspberry picking. In our backyard we had a large pond (well, to us it was large). Surrounding this pond were raspberry and blackberry bushes. Almost every morning mid- to late summer we would pop out of bed grab a plastic bowl from the cupboard and run out to pick some berries to go with our breakfast. There is nothing like raspberries on your Cheerios or blackberries on your Wheaties, so good, especially so fresh they’re still warm from the sun.
Later in the day we would pick more berries and place them in small cardboard berry containers. My sisters and I were young entrepreneurs at heart; we would take these berries to our neighbors and sell them for $1 to $2 a box. If we couldn’t get our neighbors to buy any, we would set up a small table on the side of the road and pray that someone, anyone would stop and buy some. We lived in a very rural area and maybe five cars would pass by on any given day, but who could pass by three sweet little girls with ponytails and braids without stopping for some berries. One gentlemen would stop every time we had a stand, whether we were selling berries or old toys or whatever we could get our hands on.
A big thank you and shout out to my mom for making so many berry picking memories for me and my sisters. If it wasn’t for your thrifty skills in the kitchen and a love for fresh local produce, I wouldn’t have all these loved cherished memories of berry picking. Love you, Mom!
As a final point, I hope that those of you who haven’t been berry picking and have the resources locally to do so are inspired. And those of you who haven’t been for years and carry fond memories of picking as a child you too, plan a family trip to make memories of your own. There are few more wonderful ways to helping young children connect to fresh, healthful and delicious food. I know I am looking forward to picking berries with my two girls.