We shuffle the seasons and store summer in berries. Pull open the freezer door with its frosty puff of air in January and conjure up memories of vendors at the Farmer’s Market wearing tank tops, t-shirts, and tans. They man tables lined with produce, and greenish-blue fiberboard cartons full of red or purply-blue berries. Summer abundance to savor – and save.
Our sons and I used to fly from Alaska to visit my old friend on Bainbridge in the summer – long days in a long season, borr-ing or memorable. In memory, those summers seem endless days of sunshine and banging screen doors.
One hot day we’d buy flats of raspberries from a farmer named Daisy, organize jars and canning kettle, (making at least one extra run to the grocery for sugar or lids.) The kitchen would grow fragrant and hot, we’d grow sticky from sugar and berries, but by the end of the day dozens of ruby-toned faceted jars of jam lined the table. Kids were tired out from fun and water fights. Grown ups too.
These summers, freezing berries is less work (also less fun). From the Farmer’s Market I bought a flat of raspberries and froze them in labeled bags (trying to organize the storage better this year). From the cooler at Red Dog’s farm stand, I selected a flat of strawberries to hull, rinse, and freeze on cookie sheets before transferring to plastic bags. (Freezing first keeps them from clumping together, so it’s easier to remove just a few.)
Now blueberries begin. While still at the Market, I repack them (into what a friend calls “Nancyware” – yogurt containers holding about a pint and a half) – easy to carry home, easy to freeze and use.
On the bushes in the garden, berries ripen as individuals in a cluster – so the picking must be selective. Real abundance is to walk outside and gather a little bowlful for salad or cereal – blueberries covered with a fine mist or warm from the sun. That’s plenty.
Last summer our older son and his wife sent a little video of their blueberry-loving dog eating her share while they picked in the mountains above Anchorage. In the movie she worked the low-down bushes against blue sky and red bearberry leaves. This month my young friend in Alaska and her family picked 24 quarts of raspberries to freeze – at an organic farm near Anchorage – gaining their winter stash by their own work. Harvesting your own berries teaches appreciation for those who pick.
It’s a thought encountered before, but I read recently, in a Penelope Lively novel, a character describing how you don’t always know you are happy, but only looking back do you realize the “flavor of the moment.” Berries point the way.