Rich in Raspberries

2014-07-31 07.10.08

I’ve got to give my son Gavin credit for this blog’s title, and top billing in this week’s photo, too. He mused aloud that we were “rich in raspberries” as we industriously filled two sandwich bags with our picks from a tangle of roadside bushes. They were a bit of breakfast, and later, at the close of the day, dessert with whipped cream.

We had to consult a friend to be sure the berries we saw springing up everywhere were safe. Our Backyard Foraging book neglected this particular species, and I was seriously afraid that there might be imposters that looked and smelled like wild raspberries but were actually an artfully disguised malevolent toxin that would leave us gasping for breath. But once we got the all clear, the worst thing that happened was a little patch of poison ivy on Gavin’s arm, a small price for the juicy pleasure of the experience.

On the way up the hill to our best picking spot, we saw a wealth of small birds and a duet of deer, and realized that they, also, were probably relishing the seemingly unceasing red harvest. Something about eating right from the bush, and about sharing the joy with a bevy of creatures, made the berries taste that much sweeter.

Amidst the satisfying pick, I also felt sad when thinking about how removed from the land most of us have become. On the other hand, there remains a stalwart cadre of faithful kitchen gardeners, and foraging seems to have picked up in many sectors, to me a powerful sign of the collective desire to reconnect with the good earth. Recently, I took great pleasure in the book Closer to the Ground, particularly relishing its tales of a family’s catches from the Pacific Northwest waters and coastline.  I thought back to a piece I wrote years earlier surrounding an older book by Nelson Coon, called Using Wayside Plants. Coon was inspired by William Miller, a hobo who dug himself snug places to sleep below the snow, tapped sugar maples with hollowed elderberry twigs, and chewed black birch bark to stave hunger. The read was rich with recipes for sorrel and nettle soups, ink cap mushrooms dug from the roots of trees, clover bloom vinegar, elderberry waffles, and the piece de la resistance —Irish Moss Blanc Mange.

I’ve never had the pleasure of tasting this dish, but I see that Coon’s Irish Moss dessert wasn’t as rare and exotic as I imagined—Fannie Farmer included it in her famed early 20th century cookbook  and a much more recent Block Island cookbook  also put it on the menu. I love the Haiku-like simplicity of how the recipe starts:

Gather fresh moss on the beach.
Rinse well in cold water and
Spread in the sun to dry.

Whether I’ll ever gather sufficient moss and stick-to-itiveness to make such a dish happen, I can’t say. But it does make me appreciate the abundance of both land and sea, and long for the harvest that happens so much less often these days at the individual level, but is there for the taking. The satisfaction it yields is as filling as the food itself.

(A shout out here to my nephew Will, too, who has inspired me with his artful foraging! I still want a mushroom lesson).

The Call of Pick Your Own

We have an orchard within a long walk from our house. We’ve never walked to it, though, because how could we leave there without carting an abundance: bushels of apples, jugs of cider, prizes from the farm stand? Our haul wouldn’t mix well with the busy road and its narrow shoulder, although I still consider the adventure from time to time.

It was at this orchard, only a few years ago, that I first saw a pear tree. I was taken by its golden aura in the early autumn sunlight. Every year they put out a PYO (pick your own) sign when the berries come in, and somehow I never make it there—in fact, I don’t recall ever picking berries from a patch. This year, I am determined to make it to blueberry harvest and emerge, stained purple, happy, and ready for a pie.

I’ve been reading about harvests lately, a venture that goes so well with the spilling proliferation of summer, vines and stems laden with promise.

Anne Porter (who was artist Fairfield Porter’s wife) captures that spilling over in her poem The Pear Tree—here are the last two stanzas:

And every blossom
Is flinging itself open
Wide open

Disclosing every tender filament
Sticky with nectar
Beaded with black pollen.

In Early Spring, ecologist Amy Seidl mixes her scientific knowledge about climate change with her love (and worry) for her Vermont surroundings. Her words about berries make me want to garden ambitiously, perhaps even with an orchard in mind:

 …I walk the acre as if it were a hundred, planning the geometry for my fruit tree grid. I envision apple, pear, and plum, and of course the hardy Reliance peach. And in as many places as possible, berries: currant, gooseberry, blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry. The list of varieties reads like a children’s fairy tale, a version of “Hansel and Gretel” where visitors stumble across an Eden dripping in fruit rather than a cottage dripping in frosting. It is very much a gardener’s fantasy, one founded in the belief that life is abundant and the role of humans is to work with nature to manifest more abundance.

This triggered a memory of my own attempt to capture an orchard on a page, actually a specific, memorable day when Gavin was still quite young and  first learned to love apples:

Orchard Day

Miles of trees, Macoun, McIntosh, Empire
and then the illuminated pears

The perfect gild and form
made him lean from the wagon
grabbing for fruit

At home we leaned down together to core it all,
heard the breaking skin, split and crunch, squirt of juice

How solemnly he sought and sorted the seeds,
big plans to plant our own grove just outside

It was a little cold that day–didn’t know the right depth or soil or way to tend

Should have planted them anyway.