In anticipation of the coronavirus lockdown ending, I had called around to some local farms, planning to go berry picking as soon as I was able. After being in a limited, closed space for so long, the idea of roaming amongst the charm of berry bushes was fetching to me.
It was to be a first post lockdown excursion. I’m still not through checking off my list of other delightful outdoor activities, including sailing around Manhattan — at this point that’s practically a summer rite of passage for me, but this year, I have yet to cross it off my list.
But back in July, I did squeeze that berry picking in! Blueberries, to be specific! What a joy.
As I was meandering among the berry bushes, dodging bee stings, time and space receded, as I was transported to the children’s classic Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. In this children’s tale, Sal goes blueberry picking with her mother. The problem, though, is, that she keeps eating the blueberries she collects, with the rate of her eating the sweet berries outrunning her collecting of them. As I kept plucking berries from the vine, I too found myself popping the blueberries into my mouth with a ratio of about 5:1, one being the occasional “kuplink” (that was Sal’s word) sound of the berry hitting my pail.
The pleasure of eating these berries straight from nature, instead of from hermetically sealed plastic boxes, is incomparable.
Strawberries and raspberries are more prominent in my berry cooking and baking, but I have always loved those blueberries too. Round with a perfectly smooth surface, these elegant beauties are almost like nature’s pearls, just in midnight blue. If blueberries were an inanimate object they would look like fine beads or pearls that could be strung on a necklace and wrapped around your neck.
With the added detail of that tiny little ruffled indent at the center of each berry, they really do make for beautiful art.
Some of the berries on the vine were not yet ripe, looking like actual creamy white pearls. Others were the palest of greens. I kept plucking the ripe plump blueberries, nipping my hands here and there with a scratch or two. Those bushes are thorny!
Kids shlepping wagons behind them passed me by, as we masked blueberry pickers walked the vast fields that presented the perfect socially distanced activity. Finally, I had my overflowing bucket of berries. It literally was a fruitful morning.
Once home I couldn’t decide what to do with my blueberry stash. I know blueberry pie is the classic blueberry confection, but I knew that wasn’t in the cards for me that day.
I’m happy with dry, tart and plump blueberries in the raw. To elevate it, I might sprinkle some on yogurt or top a bowl of freshly whipped cream, creating an adorable dotted effect. But with the bundle I’d managed to procure, I wanted to create a few special blueberry treats. After all, that’s what using these little summer treasures is all about. Nothing like throwing a few blueberries into an apple compote or apple crisp and after it is baked or cooked, bluish-purple is streaking your dish, like tie-dye art.
Immediately I thought of preparing jam. Filling glass jars with sweet jam is a special way of keeping the pleasure of your blueberry yield with you for a nice long time, and keeping summer with you in a jar. I could whip a jar of jam out of the fridge in the heart of frozen winter and harken back to my sunny summer morning on the farm.
I Googled around and saw some interesting ideas for preparing treats starring blueberries, such as barbecue blueberry sauce and freezing the berries and blending them frozen with your favorite white wine. I will definitely try the latter. But somehow nothing was quite pulling at me that day.
I always associate lemon with blueberries. Any blueberry pie, crisp or bars I’d baked in the past featured lemon or lemon zest. Blue and yellow — it’s a perfect color combination, too. Quickly, I began rummaging among my stash of napkins when I found some yellow gingham ones — perfect linings for some mini paper crates I had on hand in my paper goods drawer.
And then I knew the precise “recipe” I was going to prepare with my crop of fresh perfectly plump blueberries from the vine: blueberry crate gifts for my neighbors.
It turned out to be a nice symbol of my first post coronavirus lockdown excursion.
Now I patiently wait to savor the winter-summer jam tastings.
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