The Call of the Fresh Oregon Berry

Berry picking is something I’ve been doing since I moved to Oregon. There is something very special about the berries here. Like the grapes for pinot noir, berries like the weather here during the summer months – once it kicks in! Cool nights and hot days. Generally the strawberries come into their full sweetness in late May and early June. And I do mean sweetness! The varieties grown here are not meant to be shipped thousands of miles away. It’s one of those fruits which is best within a few days of picking. Generally I will make a small batch of strawberry jam, cut them up as a cereal or ice cream topping, or just pop them into my mouth and savor the flavor.

Next come the raspberries!

Because of our unusually cool weather this year (yes, ironic, we in the Northwest were chilling out while the majority of the country faced a severe heat wave), the berry picking season didn’t open until July 1st in my area. That’s late. But it made the wait all that much more sweet with anticipation. The first day of July fell on a Friday this year, but no concern – there’s always time for berry picking! I’m lucky to live less than 10 miles from several berry farms, and I like visiting them all, for each has their special varieties on the vine.

First stop was Rowell Ranch which has been growing berries for over a century. Upon arrival there is a small stand which lists the varieties that are currently ripe for picking, and also the ones that will be ready in a week or two. They offer picking buckets, or you can bring your own. I find out that the Willamette red raspberries are ready, and I head off for the marked rows.

I find an empty row – not empty of raspberries, of course, but of pickers – and begin. I work the row back and forth, in a melodic fashion, no staccato movements, just slow and thoughtful. Raspberries are a tender fruit and due diligence will pay off. Though it is relatively early, around 9am, the sun begins to beat down and the heat waves slowly make their way up from the dirt rows in the distance. Looking at the 6-7 foot bushes, many raspberries are hiding under the many leaves of the vine. I gently lift several limbs of vine with the backside of my left arm and discover oodles of ripe jewels the color of rubies! As I gently collect them and let them fall into my bucket, I hear the running of feet and excited voices as young pickers just feet away, but hidden from sight by the thickness of the bush. They exclaim excitedly about what they have found. Mommy, here’s one! Here’s one! Can I pick it? Can I eat it?!

Berry picking is a special time to get away from the day to day rush. Being out amongst the rows becomes a meditative state, it’s just walk, lift, pluck, and place into the bucket. It’s a great way to be in touch with your food, learn about the seasonality (and wonder) of berries, support your local farmer, and friends and family (and other eaters) will be ever grateful, too.

There’s no time like berry time.

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