Like clockwork my backyard raspberry patch erupts with fruit every year right after the Fourth of July. As long as there is enough rain in June, this crop can be counted on, and so my obligation to glean the berries begins.
Every evening I can be found out there, wading into the unruly thicket of wispy stems, cup in my right hand, picking with my left. I enjoy fresh raspberries for almost an entire month and put what I can’t eat fresh into my basement freezer. January’s morning oatmeal will be covered in July’s produce, an unrivaled treat.
By picking berries, I am carrying on what my folks and their folks before them did every summer. Growing up on a farm in Wisconsin meant that you maintained a large garden, and preserved any fruit available from your orchard. My mother made and canned our own applesauce, as well as pears and plums. She froze strawberries and raspberries. Buckets of cherries from Door County and crates of peaches from Colorado were also canned, assuring that our hearty breakfast meals would have luscious variety even in the winter.
Preserving fruit was commonly called “putting by for the winter,” but now the notion seems slightly archaic. With 24 – hour supermarkets offering countless varieties of fruits and vegetable in or out of season, what need is there to pick your own? I know the practice isn’t entirely out of fashion but I know so few who care to do this. Now when I mention the idea of fruit for breakfast to my friends, I find that it’s not something that many grew up with. Preserving raspberries from my backyard in Green Bay is all that I have left of my farming roots.
The small raspberry plants that I took from my folks’ farm five or six years ago have boldly taken hold in my garden, so much so that I now have scarcely enough room for anything else. These hardy descendants of my mother’s raspberry patch ask so little of me. I never prune nor fertilize. I just show up to steal fruit.
As I pick a seemingly endless array of juicy berries I wonder where to send the thank you card. Surely the Earth is under no obligation to bring forth such fruit every summer. And I wonder if my mother knows that I’m taking fruit from plants derived from those she once raised? Like her, the raspberries just give and give and ask for so little in return