raspberries, raspberries everywhere -- even in my sleep

I think it was my mother who started me saying, “Too much of anything, even a good thing, is not good.” Whether this hearkens back to her, or to another source, I’m sure my children heard this aphorism repeatedly while growing up. Well, the saying came back to roost in my berry patch over the last few weeks. Whether it was the warm spring, the bountiful leaf mulch, the Memorial Day hot spell, or all the above, it’s been berry bonanza here for the last two weeks and, frankly, I’m tired of it!

blasphemy, accounting, slavery/addiction

Yes, that statement is blasphemy, but it’s an honest confession. I’ve been picking twice a day for the past two and a half weeks, and as near as I can construct, here’s the disposition:

  • thirty half-pints of red raspberry jam
  • twenty-two half pints of chocolate raspberry sauce
  • two and a half quarts of raspberry vinegar in process
  • thirteen quarts of raspberries in freezer for jam or other concoctions
  • personally eaten an indeterminable amount fresh berries while picking, on cereal, on ice cream
  • a few gallons were distributed among  friends, neighbors, and even random passers-by

Amazing production. I’m thrilled. Those berries are bearing their little hearts out. But I’m beginning to suffer berry burn out. It didn’t help the spirit any when the peak of the harvest came over a hot spell with temps in the nineties and humidity to match. I simply couldn’t pick them fast enough; my back would get weary; I was dripping with sweat. “That’s it for today,” I’d say to the canes and try to walk away when my eye would catch another bright red cluster that was too beautiful to pass by. “Okay, just one more. But that’s the last.” It’s never the last when the siren calls.

And yes, they are beautiful, enchanting, and delicious, but they are a demanding and unforgiving fruit.  As near as I can tell (I don’t have scientific data to support this), each raspberry has a three-day cycle as it reaches optimum ripeness. Day one: the raspberry looks red and ready to pick, but it doesn’t come when gently pulled. If you compare the color, this berry is a slightly lighter red than the Day two berry and it’s not nearly as sweet. Day two: This is the day to pick. The Day two berry is bright red, firm but tender, very sweet, and takes only the gentlest of touch to separate from the stem. If you don’t pick on day two, you get a Day three berry: This berry is practically maroon in color and is almost mushy. It might still be a little sweet, but it could also be either sour or tasteless. A gentle wind, a slight brush of the cane, and the Day three berry is on the ground, which is about all it’s good for.

The raspberries do not reach this three-day cycle at one time. So these demanding red dictators have taken over my schedule, my priorities, and as Bob points out, my refrigerator. On any given day over the last fortnight, you would have been hard pressed to find a nook to store dinner leftovers or the chicken marinating for later. Colanders, bowls, pans filled with today’s pick were waiting impatiently for the evening when their fate would be determined. No possibility of storing them on the counter or even in the basement — not my delicate dictators — no, they demanded prime real estate in the refrigerator. And they demand timely disposition. Blueberries will be patient for several days; pears prefer to be ignored for the first week. But not red raspberries. If they’re not refrigerated immediately, they’ll start to mold; even with the benefit of refrigeration, they’re unlikely to last more than a day or two.

Each night I’d open the refrigerator to view my spoils and decide how best to keep them from spoiling. Time permitting, I’d make jam than evening. Berries permitting, I’d put off the jam until the morning. This assumes, of course, that I have no life other than berries — reasonable assumption. If jam wasn’t in the plan for either evening or morning, I’d wash the berries well, drain them even “weller” (using a salad spinner to remove as much water as possible), then pack them in a freezer container (don’t worry about smashing or bruising at this point; they will be mashed later), label, date, freeze, breathe, sleep. Repeat. Was beginning to feel like an endless loop — the too much of a great thing.

so what happened to the entrepreneurial spirit?

tough to get a good head shot of a jam jar

In my last post I mentioned (delusional) thoughts of marketing the jam. After spending a ridiculous amount of time creating a reasonably attractive label that met (nearly) all the labeling requirements for homemade jam in Connecticut, I learned that I was the only one who could sell my jam. That means I can sell them from a stand in my front yard; take them to a farmer’s market; possibly post them on a farmer’s exchange site. I could not sell them to one of the local farm stands that abound in Glastonbury. Option one can’t work because my location only gives me access only to my neighbors who already know they have a standing invitation to pick berries and will certainly get a jar or two of jam this summer. Options two and three are technically viable once I get the labeling squared away, but in actuality are probably not financially or temporally viable. With only one product to sell, participating in a farmer’s market is of doubtful benefit.

But there is good news on the marketing front. Through a serendipity encounter, I ran into Chip Beckett my long-time veterinarian whose daughter Leah runs the Beckett Farm. Chip and I were talking about how crops were coming early this year, I mentioned my overabundance of red raspberries; he said he thought Leah could use some since theirs weren’t bearing yet. This morning Leah Beckett was in the raspberry patch at 7:00 a.m. picking away.  She drove off before nine with a couple of flats of berries that she’ll sell at the Billings Forge Farmer’s Market in Hartford. Life is good! My berries are picked; the shackles are off ; I’ll have a few shekels in my purse, and some time to write and attend to the rest of my garden. More on that tomorrow!

the lady doth protest too much

Doubt that Bill had me and raspberries in mind when he penned this famous line, but it does fit here. For all my venting on this page, once I click “Publish” I’ll be out there checking in with them, gathering the ones that we missed this morning like a shepherd with her lost sheep. It is a delicious addiction!