The Best Berries

Where are the best berries? Sometimes we hear that during the picking season. Ever since the Ham Lake Fire, folks from near and far have been able to enjoy all the glory of a fantastic blueberry season. It's interesting to me that in the aftermath of a fire, which causes so much devastation, can be something so grand as a marvelous berry crop. Just another one of those silver linings, out there waiting for us if we are of the mind to look.

Friends up towards the end of the trail emailed me on the weekend to let me know that they had picked a handful of ripe berries while out on a walk that day. They estimated that in about ten days, a lot of them would be ripe. Time to get those buckets and baskets ready....Greg is doing so. He looks forward to the solitary time when he is out in the woods, on the hunt to fill his bucket. Maybe he gets that from his mom, because she is a blueberry-picking champ. Sometimes she will bring a whole bucket over to us, a gift of extraordinary proportion. She will tell us that she has enough in her freezer, but she so enjoys the activity, that she wants to share it with us. Needless to say, we never turn them down.

As a kid, my family would occasionally go on berry-picking adventures. A mile from our home in Duluth was Hartley Field. It wasn't a nature center back then, it was just a patch of woods full of raspberry bushes. We would head out and work to fill our little containers, while listening to my dad tell stories of the place. He grew up in the same neighborhood, and would spend time there when he was a kid. There was an old structure on the property, like a half-buried root cellar. He told us that it was the potato house, and that there were holes on the top of it, for airflow, I presume. We were constantly warned to watch out for these holes, so as to not fall into the potato house. I did not want to do that, for sure, as it looked dark, damp, and loaded with spiders whenever we passed by its open doorway.

The best berries back then, we often found, were not at Hartley, but actually up towards Brimson. We would pack a picnic and drive up there for a Sunday afternoon. Imagine this: a family of ten (my youngest sister wasn't born yet), all spilling out of the station wagon, fanning out to the nearby bushes, to gather the ripe fruit. I picture it a bit like migrant workers. We would work hard for several hours, filling and refilling our containers, and then we would have a classic picnic on a blanket, a bit of relaxing, before heading back home. Afterward, my mom would spend hours over the pans of berries, cleaning out all the leaves and sticks that inevitably were mixed in. We weren't necessarily clean pickers at that age. The jam that she would make was a treat we enjoyed throughout the winter. That's probably where I got my love of raspberry jam.

But back to that question: Where are the best berries? Almost anywhere you go, up towards the end of the trail, will lead to at least a few bushes. Most serious pickers will not reveal their favorite locations, so one just has to get out there and start exploring. But yesterday, the answer to that question was a bit different. I think the best berries were right in front of us. Addie and I collaborated on a blueberry pie, in honor of Father's Day. A beautiful slice, fresh from the bread oven, on a plate in front of me, was where I found the best berries. Topped with a scoop of Addie's homemade vanilla ice cream, we all agreed, it doesn't get any better than that.