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Luskin: Raspberries

07/20/11 5:55PM By Deborah Luskin
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(HOST) Commentator Deborah Lee Luskin has been spending a lot of time harvesting a bumper crop of raspberries - as well as thoughts about the cycle of the seasons.

(LUSKIN) I'm blessed with raspberries.

We transplanted the cultivars we found by the back door when we moved into our current house sixteen years ago, and now have about 120 linear feet of highly productive bushes between the bee yard and the clothesline.

This optimal placement allows me to keep an eye on the health and activity of my honeybees as well on the developing fruit as I pin up and take down my sun-dried laundry.

By early July, the promise of ripening berries becomes an added inducement to performing this household chore, as each trip to the line is an excuse to check for signs of reddening fruit.

At first, only a handful of berries ripen, and I claim them as just reward for doing the wash. A day later, I make a special trip to the berry patch and bring in a full bowl for family breakfast. After just a few hot days, the harvest is on. Wearing long sleeves against briars and a straw hat against sun, I hang a bucket around my neck, so I can pick two-handed.

At first, I pick a gallon of berries once a day; it takes me just under an hour. We eat berries for breakfast with cereal, for lunch with yogurt, and with ice cream after dinner. The weather continues hot and dry. The patch now yields a gallon two times a day, and I'd like to make jam, but I don't have the time. I'm too busy picking. I enlist the other members of the household to pick when they return from their day jobs, and they do the best they can - until the bugs drive them inside.

I'm now oppressed by raspberries. I call in the neighbors, assigning each an afternoon. I only ask that they pick clean and take all their bounty home with them. I still pick mornings, and freeze the berries on trays. If there's time after dinner, I'll make raspberry jam, raspberry vinegar, and raspberry syrup. But there's never time. After dinner it's all I can do to place the frozen berries in bags and think ahead to the monochromatic months of winter, when these red berries will add vibrant color to our meals, and remind us of July's sun-drenched heat, with the jungle profusion of green on the ground, on the hills, in the air.

I think of Frederick, the mouse in the famous children's book, who soaks up the colors of summer so that he will be able to provide poetry to his hungry friends come the meager months of spring. Instead of words or colors, I put raspberries by, so that when the cold is upon us, we'll be able to taste the bounty that is past - and yet to come.
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