Beginning in July, it is peak strawberry season in New England. I’m reminded again how gardening is a seasonal activity. It has been a year since we have had fresh strawberries, and I’ve forget how good they smell and how sweet they taste. But now strawberries are here and I will have them every day in the breakfast bowl, and in company of pie crust, sugar and rhubarb, in the form of strawberry-rhubarb pie, and freshly sliced with Ben and Jerry's vanilla ice cream. In our family we also allow ourselves one round of strawberry shortcake at the beginning of the season, using powder milk biscuits, local butter, strawberries and fresh whipped cream.
This lasts for an intense few weeks before the strawberries disappear for another year.
With blueberries we aren't as disciplined, and we succumb occasionally to the blueberries from "away". They appear, pale, thin and hard, shipped from Chile and Mexico, as early as March. A few weeks later, plumper and tastier ones come from Michigan and New Jersey. Finally, our local farmed ones will appear in mid-July, and they will last through much of August. We supplement the farmed blueberries with wild blueberries that we pick in Maine. The wild blueberries are smaller and a little harder, but still delicious.
My grandfather raised raspberries at his summer place. He had a patch with several rows of bushes. As a crop they seemed fussy, the bushes required maintenance and pruning, and the soil needed fertilizer and mulch. But they certainly tasted wonderful, and he would freeze cartons of the berries for use all year round.
Non-fussy raspberries show up in the wild and along roadsides. Wild raspberries are a regular treat for hikers and campers in the summer. It's not unusual to pass a trail-side patch when hiking in the mountains. If we keep walking, we grab as we go. But if we have a little more time, we'll remove our packs, and spend a few minutes gathering and eating as many as we can.
The compensation for such a brief interval of berries are the local harvests to come, especially sweet corn and tomatoes. As we cycle through the seasons, each crop brings an interval of anticipation and enjoyment. We delight in their peak growth and freshness, enjoy for a few weeks, and then have to wait another year before the season rolls around again.
Illustrations by Larry Keyes