Thursday, July 12, 2007

Berry Season


This year a tangle of black raspberries, low bush blackberries, and raspberries has sprung up behind our compost bin. Thorny berries and blueberries are the first things to crop up on cleared land and are eventually overtaken by larger shrubs and trees in forest regeneration. These berries are at the edge of a stonewall in our neighbor's field that he mows. For some reason, this year, they have climbed up and spilled over our compost and are thick with berries.


My boys and I have been picking the black raspberries daily--some two cups a day, enough for muffins and some extras for the bunny rabbits who, like Beatrix Potter's Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter gobbled them right up for their supper. Soon there will be red raspberries and later in August, blackberries. But the red raspberries are the most plentiful.


We turned them into muffins, using the Lemon Blueberry Muffin recipe from one of my favorite summer cookbooks, appropriately named THE SUMMER HOUSE COOKBOOK (a sumptuous feast of easy recipes and lovely images, published by Clarkson Potter).


We substituted black raspberries for blueberries. The muffins are lovely: light, a good crumb and rise, not too sweet, or moist or dry. You could also substitute orange rind for the lemon or nutmeg for the cinnamon.

The first poem in one of my favorite collections of poety, AMERICAN PRIMITIVE by Mary Oliver (which received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1983), is about blackberry picking:


When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the brambles
nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high
branches, reaching
my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what it is. In the dark
creeks that run by there is
this thick paw of my life darting among

the black bells, the leaves; there is
this happy tongue.

© Mary Oliver

This poem, like the others she writes, is about lifting the veil that surrounds us and having a deeper connection with our world and the natural realm. Berry picking, like weeding, has a zen quality: it is a time to think and reflect. "There is this thick paw of my life darting among the black bells"--we can be in the moment as the rest of time and place and our past runs by and flickers around us. The gathering up, the sense of provision, even if on a bowl of cereal or perhaps in jam or something baked from the oven, is as gratifying as coming upon a cache of berry bushes in the woods.

When I was a child my favorite story that I'd ask my parents to tell me was about a bear finding blackberries in the woods. Another favorite book to this day, and one I have shared many times with each of my own children, is BLUEBERRIES for SAL by Robert McCloskey: a classic tale of parental separation and reuniting again amidst the backdrop of blueberry picking on a Maine hillside. ["Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk" went the berries in the pail.] At the farm, in summer, we had the blueberry bog and wild blackberries and raspberries here and there around the place. My uncle planted some cultivated berries in a field behind the barn that we enjoyed all season. Berries are luscious and colorful, each a gift and a gem: my favorite fruits of summer.

No comments: