Saturday, July 14, 2007

Berry season!

It's being such a busy summer, as usual. Besides the usual flurry of summer activities focused on getting us out of the house while it's beautiful out, we're getting ready to go to the SOE Fan Faire in August (I may have mentioned it...). So I'm behind on blogs. I still haven't managed to blog about the garden, which is doing phenomenally well due to a lot of rain this summer. The peas are 5 feet tall, the potato plants are easily 3.5 to 4 feet tall, there's more tomatoes on the Early Girls I planted than I can count, and I have a cherry tomato plant that apparently is a small tree and should have been planted alone. We've harvested our second zucchini, we're already through the first crop of lettuce, and I've planted the second run of green onions.

I will get more details out later, I swear! 'Cause today I'm excited about raspberries.

Grandpa has wild roses and raspberries bordering his yard. He thinned out the deadwood this year and we have new young raspberry bushes coming up everywhere and the rose hips are really thick. He called last week and said "I'm canning the first raspberries!" meaning he's eaten the first ripe ones.

The subdivision Grandpa lives in hasn't been entirely paved over, which is normal here in our neck of Alaska. There's an ally between most blocks that doesn't see a lot of traffic. So Tuesday I went over with a bucket and went scouting. The one area Grandpa recommended wasn't showing a lot of fruit, but I found two other healthy patches and came back with about a quart of berries. Judging from the amount of unripe fruit I saw I thought I'd try back every 3-4 days.

Yesterday Grandpa calls again and says it's definitely time!

So we head over, and Hubby takes one the kids in Grandpas yard while I head out with the bucket.

Now, a few words about picking raspberries in Interior Alaska. Long sleeves are smart, as they have stickers. You're gonna get eaten up by bugs. You'll be picking stickers out of your clothes forever. Because they berries tend to grow in underbrush and like to hang out with rose bushes, which have REALLY nasty thorns.

The fruit grows under the leaves, and if they are crowded they'll grow almost low-bush style, along the ground. If you see one pretty red fruit winking at you, lift the branch up so you can see the underside, I'll guarantee there are more. I used my bucket to hold down brush and grass and ferns that were int he way. You'll get wet if there's been any rain at all, because the underbrush holds the moisture.

The patches I found were so laden with fruit that was so ripe I was losing berries just berries just moving the branches to get underneath them. The berry size varied from teeny where the plats were packed together to ones bigger than what I've seen in the supermarket. All of them were beautiful.

I found a third patch I hadn't scouted as I was headed back with my bucket over half full (it's a big bucket). These were the biggest and best berries I 'd seen yet. I picked and picked and picked and never got close to getting them all. My gaming friends will understand when I say I had one-more-node syndrome, and bad. Eventually I looked at my phone for the time and discovered I'd been out way longer than I planned. I reluctantly walked back to Grandpas house and tried to keep the kids out of the bucket.

Last year I didn't roam as far (and it wasn't as wet a summer) and I ended up buying one pint of berries to make jam. That's not going to be an issue this year. At a rough estimate I have three quarts of berries, and that's more bulk than a grocery store dry quart, because the berries fall apart and compress better after cleaning and washing.

That bag behind them is a gallon bag; the fruit on the trays I just washed about a half an hour ago and is drying to be frozen.

I want to go back tomorrow; that last patch isn't anywhere near picked over and those berries are just ripe.

In the meantime I'm freezing the berries. This isn't hard, you wash them , let them dry a bit on paper towels, and throw them in a Zip-Lock, getting as much air out as possible. It means I don't have to run right home and squeeze making jam into this hectic schedule we've got.

But jam is definitely in our future!

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