Oh So Berry Berry Nice

By Annie Young

‘Tis the season for fruit dripping with sweetness. We are fortunate in our neck of the woods to be surrounded by berries of all kinds available all summer long. Berry season starts in early June with strawberries—everyone’s favorite–then mulberries falling off trees into your hands, thorny black and red raspberries, easy-picking blueberries, and wild wineberries all follow. Perhaps you have a favorite patch where you pick or grow your own. Maybe you load up the full green square cartons at market. However you attain these bits of flavor and fructose, savor them as summer slips along.

My oldest berry picking memory is of going to Paskorz Berry Farm north of Pittsburgh, where I grew up. In a large lean-to, the farmer’s helper would weigh our picking containers and send us to the field where we would pick the ripest fruit. If it was blueberries, Dad would gently tie the sand buckets to our waists so we could pick with two hands. We got pretty adept at leaning, reaching, eating, and letting the berries slide into the bucket—each berry making the rope around our waist tighter as the bucket became heavier. But we also were allowed to eat a few as we picked. This helped to encourage more picking.

This year, for the first time, I gathered my daughter’s bright pink sand bucket and sunhats, and headed to a local berry farm. The farm is marked only with a white sign tilted against a post in the weeds along the road saying, “blueberries.” The sign is there only for a few weeks each year, so we always drive down that road slowly, stalking to see when it appears. When we see the sign, my car bounces down the rutted driveway where a young entrepreneur is selling lemonade at the end.

We head straight to the rows of bushes. Because I’ve been here many times over the years, I know the drill. The whole berry patch is draped in black netting to keep out the birds and some bugs. We bow our heads under the folds that flow to the ground. It feels like you are entering a sacred space, like a bride removing her veil.

Berries are often listed as the most chemically contaminated fruits. Their porous skin leaves them open for saturation from chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Fruits like bananas are peeled, leaving the fruit mostly protected from these chemicals. It is difficult to grow berries organically. Everyone loves berries—from deer to birds to bugs and diseases. So finding a producer whose growing methods you trust is important. Many farmers may spray minimally in the beginning of the season or just when diseases present themselves. In addition, there are organic pesticides that quickly dissipate. Almost all pick-your-own operations cease any kind of spraying in plenty of time for picking.

On this trip, the first week the berries have been ready for harvest, the first few bushes are picked fairly clean of ripe berries. I like being able to pull handfuls of ripe berries off at one time, so we head back to bushes where the picking is better. My little girl is only a year-and-a-half old, but she is already a berry expert. We grow some berries at our own farm, too, and she knows what colors to look for and how to pick them and plop them directly into her mouth. She chats and picks and plays in the grass, while I busily try to fill our pick bucket before she can eat them.

Picking is satisfying because you can see the container fill and fill with fruit. You can plan how you will enjoy your harvest. Will you bake something mouthwatering, make a refreshing smoothie, or freeze some for later? I like freezing some and keeping them long into winter where they provide a sweet reminder that summer will come again.

So go off and find your berries! Find them along the edges of fields in the thorny brush; find them at the farmer’s market or at roadside stands. Gorge on the fruit knowing that the season passes all too quickly and nothing is as sweet as taking a moment to enjoy fresh summer goodness.