Sunday, August 10, 2008
Posted by Thomas MacEntee
Not blueberry sundae but Sunday. This week I made a Blueberry Buckle which brought back many memories of summers in upstate New York.
You have to understand how important "berry picking" as we called it was to families like mine. The actual picking would start out as a family activity, with everyone - the youngest ones included - heading out to the brush with a bucket or an old pot tied to their waist using a belt or a piece of rope. Sometimes we would head out after dinner when it was cooler and there were about two hours of sun left on a late July night.
We often drove down the road to the fields where neighbors knew us and didn't mind us picking berries or land that wasn't posted. The goal was to pick the ripe berries only - no green ones - with a minimal amount of twigs and leaves in the bucket. Mom or one of the older relatives would have to go through and sort out all the detritus that night when we got home, so we were often scolded about "sloppy picking." You were sloppy if you simply grabbed a whole handful of berries - ripe and unripened - and tore them off the bush. "You're no Juan Valdez," someone would shout and we'd all laugh.
More scolding could be heard when one of the younger pickers would eat more than they picked. The best pickers could have two hands rapidly picking berries but not crushing them and carry on a conversation at the same time. The topics back then were the Watergate Hearings, the price of gas (even then), the upcoming phone company strike and more.
As it got dark, with just enough light from the setting ball of fire so that we could make our way back to the car without tripping on a stone, we'd all pile back into the car for the trip home. The deer would be out and Mom would have to drive slowly. I can still hear her saying, "If one deer crosses the road just stop! Because usually there are two or three more in the woods where that came from and they'll cross right in front of you."
If we had behaved, Mom would treat us to frozen custard up in Parksville. If they had blueberry flavor made with fresh local berries, we'd all order it. The City People would never venture to try such a flavor, looking down on it with their usual scorn as a "local thing." But while they safely stuck with their vanillas and chocolates/vanilla swirls, we knew exactly what it took to make that magic blue-purple treat: long summer days, the cool fingers of an approaching dusk, old berry stained buckets and ropes, the laughter of a family kidding each other, the blue-purple faces of kids who grew up way too quickly, the glimpse of a deer seeking relief from the heat, and the most important thing, the berries themselves.
Photo: Blueberry Buckle by Dave Kekish on Flickr.