There are many things to love about summer. The best may be the berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries. Helene Phelps tells us about the summer berries that make her winters so much more bearable.
Pulling into the berry patch early Sunday morning, the air clear and cool with breezes smelling of tomorrow’s short cake, the late June strawberry harvest begins. The ‘first pick’ of the season as neighbors greet the bounty together just east of the Bois Brule River. This annual search for berries in Northwestern Wisconsin brings with it a renewed belief in cycles, a chance to stretch downward, a sweet harvest to share with hungry visitors. The hunt is primeval — and serious business.
It is a good thing to get down on your knees on a Sunday – or any day of the week. Especially if the posture yields a freezer full of ‘early summer’ to later thaw in February.
There are those who pick two-handed… the produce pros who can fill a waxen box in no time ‘flat’. Pros at scooting the container along the straw covered ground as they nimbly pluck only the ripest plump jewels. Others of us are one-handed pickers with a flattened palm on the earth for maximum balance as we peek beneath the nodding fruits of our labor.
As the sun rolls out from the backside of cumulous nimbus, combined with early dawn dewiness, the glistening fruit explodes eye ward. You can hear the collective gatherers sigh with contentment as they settle in to their assigned row and smell the sticky-sweet success of their toil.
In July, we’re after the wild blueberries. The hot, sandy soil that lays down on back roads is the stuff that wild blueberries are made of. You can smell the dry earth, the pine sap, and the very edges of summer’s sizzle as warmer breezes and leisures multiply.
Wild blueberries seem to capture more flavor that their domesticated cousins. Small and compact with nature’s mighty nutrients, these low bush fruits find pleasure in becoming our Thanksgiving jam and Sunday pie.
But the bushes look a bit rumpled and barren of berries this season. A spring freeze shook the pearly bell flowers to their very core and knocked them off their tiny life-limbs. Either that, or the neighborhood black bears gathered every blue tiny orb while we weren’t looking! Maybe we’ll have better hunting next year…
But oh! The wild raspberries! These tangled canes… these succulent petite pockets… they devour the sun’s rays and evening rains. They prickle and pop and yell out “Hey! Over Here! Over Here!” This bounty, hanging head down, donning green caps can be had with an easy tug – and best comfort when wearing long sleeves and pants — and swooshing away the deer flies. Two-fisted harvesting and a decent bend at the hips is the choreography of the day. “One for you and one for me and one for the bucket below our feet. Oops. And one for the roadside daisies.” These wild crimson beauties tumble in and hold each other accountable for making it to the fridge.
As late summer settles over a hushed landscape, the world still shows her verdant palette, but also browns and reds as bracken fern fades and lavender asters begin to rust. Foraging for summer berries is a sweet memory come August. My freezer is robust with red and blue gem-packets — and the promise of triple berry pancakes when Wisconsin’s winter chill returns.