Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Maybe you don't know, but berry picking pretty much defines summer in Vermont. You know real summer is here when you're kneeling between rows of strawberries. The flies and mosquitos will hover around you, and the sun will beat down on you, because that's how it goes in late June. Of course, a storm might also chase you right out of the wide open berry patch. The strawberry patches I've been to seem to nestle down in flat places close to water.

After you pick strawberries, you've got to do something with them. They spoil pretty quickly, and in my experience, are best canned or frozen the same day they're picked. In our house, no one likes frozen strawberries, so we make ours into jam. And there's really nothing quite so tasty as homemade strawberry jam- unless it's raspberry.

After strawberries come the raspberries. You can pick the black ones first, but can also wait and pick black and red together, and then pick more black when the red have almost gone by. If you're a fan of black raspberries (me! me!), you have to be prepared to pick them over the course of days if you want very many. They seem to ripen bit by bit instead of in a big wave. The red raspberries are perhaps the favorite jamberry in our house. Their seeds are smaller and they are a very nice contrast to the sugar in jam. And they definitely must be processed the same day you pick them. I've seen raspberries mold in under twelve hours. (doesn't that make you wonder what they do to the ones in the grocery store?)

Before you've quite recovered from raspberry canning, it's time for blueberries. And blueberries are definitely worth freezing. We also like them canned in syrup. We use them all winter and spring, so it never seems we have quite enough. We use them for pies, cobblers, waffles, muffins, and as a hot compote for pound cake. I serve them in March when we all are needing some sunshine. I mix them into the 30th jar of applesauce to make it seem more interesting. What we don't do with blueberries is make jam. The skins are just too aggressive. Also, an interesting tidbit- blueberries taste better if you pick them and wait to put them away until the next day. They sweeten a bit more without spoiling.

Finally, there are the blackberries. Just like black raspberries, you have to content yourself with multiple pickings, and of course, the thorns will get you. These are my favorite berry of all time, and I do not mind the thorns or the seeds. We have yet to pick enough to do anything more than eat them fresh. I thought this year we would have plenty, but the birds have already cleaned the green berries out of one patch, leaving the small patch by the house for us. I guess I'll groom that patch and let it spread until all my berry dreams can be fulfilled.

Today was blueberry day. The children and I picked 21 pounds. We should probably go and pick that much again. So, there are berries sitting on the table that I'll tuck into the freezer tomorrow.

And we have gooseberries and currants that I only planted last year. Our hope is to grow all the berries we want, but we're a long way from that. The blueberry bushes  and strawberries each made about a pound of berries this year, the raspberries were similar, and the currants and gooseberries did almost nothing. So, we'll treat them kindly, and see what next summer brings.

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