Monday, July 27, 2009

Thoughts Inspired by Wild Red Raspberries

Photo copyright ChristineMM, taken 7/26/09 in my yard.

Earlier this year, I decided to keep a small patch of wild red raspberries growing where our woods met our lawn rather than cut them down to make more of a "normal" and "acceptable" backyard.

The red raspberries are now are ripening at a fast rate with our sunny days, 80-something temperatures, and rainy nights. Berries not yet ripe at noon are often perfectly ripe by sundown and can be overripe by noon the next day or by sundown. I'm making it my business to pick daily if not twice a day now.

Yesterday at noon I picked over a pint, from those I could reach from the lawn without touching poison ivy or trodding on the ant nest on the woods-side of the patch and made a lunch of them, eating them immediatly after picking.

We had a severe thunderstorm last night with rains. This morning I found ripe berries on the ground, probably forced off by the hard rain. In about five minutes I picked over a pint of berries and ate them right then and there.

There is nothing as wonderful as ripe wild berries eaten right off the bush. Saving them for later, or eating while cold from being in the refrigerator is not the same at all. The temperature is important too, with air temperature being just right.

Photo copyright ChristineMM, taken 7/26/09 in my yard.

(Note the three leaved plant at the bottom of the photo, that is the horrid poison ivy plant!)

My husband put in a request to make jam from these wildcrafted berries. I figured in order to do so and make the effort worth my while, I'd have to harvest the berries daily and freeze them immediately. Then at the end of the harvest, I could use the frozen berries for jam.

Truth be told I've never made homemade jam having always had a free supply from either my grandmother or mother. But now that my grandmother has passed and since my mother hasn't made any (with storebought berries) in a few years I figure it is time I learned. To that end I jumped with joy when I was offered a review copy of a new book on jam and jellymaking. It is en route now and I plan to read it and review it this summer. But I digress.

I decided to eat these berries each day instead. The flavor is so fantastic that I prefer to savor them daily rather than use every berry from this small patch for jam. If I had access to larger quantities of free berries then I'd make jam. When berries are of this high quality, I almost feel it is wasteful to douse them in sugar and make a jam of them. I'd rather use the future crop of wildcrafted black raspberries for that purpose, as they sometimes can be just a tad too tart au natural.

My grandmother would wildcraft raspberries and make jam with them, in Maine, even into her 90s. As she neared the end of her life she relied on her wildcrafting friends (they used to go picking as a group, it was a fun time for them and was filled with much talk and laughter). After my grandmother was too frail to pick berries herself, her friends would drop off wildcrafted berries to her for jam making. I was there to witness this firsthand and was moved by their kindness. Imagine giving over three gallons worth of ripe berries! What a gift!

At the end of her life, when she had lost too much of her eyesight to age-related macular degeneration, her paid caregiver was the jam maker, with active oversight and direction from my grandmother. At first I thought that was silly, as did other relatives, until I realized that in her eyes she felt she was fulfilling a need. She was able to continue her role as provider of homemade jams to her loved ones. We could all afford to buy factory made jams, or even small batches made by cottage industries, but that was irrelevant to her. She felt we had always enjoyed her jams and jellies and she wanted to continue providing them to us. So we let her. And we all appreciated the thought and her gifts, finally coming to accept them with hugs and kisses rather than saying it was unnecessary or that she should "rest as she is getting older". She didn't want to hear that, and it bothered her to be reminded that she was losing her independence and physical abilities.

In addition to the red raspberries she also wildcrafted with blackberries, fiddleheads, and high bush cranberries. She wildcrafted apples and plums from fruit trees on bare abandoned lots that had turned to wild field, which were former homesteads back when the area was thriving from the lumber industry.

Perhaps one reason that I enjoy wildcrafting is it reminds me of my grandmother. I can't help but think of her while picking berries. Wildcrafting is also a way to appreciate the simple things in life, to enjoy the superior taste of a small (free) food grown my Mother Nature. It is a good reminder that not all things created by man and sold in the marketplace are superior. I think that appreciating nature helps put humans in their place, as the simplest attempt at taming nature for garden, yard or a home is a constant effort against the elements and the Earth's critters. To realize the power and strentgh of the wild Earth keeps me feeling humble.

Related Posts

The View Out of Nanny's Kitchen Window (March 2006)

Rest in Peace Nanny (December 2008)

Peaceful Moment Thwarted (July 2009)

1 comment:

ShirleyHS said...

Christine, this is a lovely memoir essay. I can envision your grandmother, both in her younger days of "wildcrafting" (thanks for introducing me to this lovely term)and in her later years of instructing her caregiver.

Your blog will go on my blog roll! Thanks for following me on twitter and I'll love to hear from you on my blog also.