Thursday, January 26, 2012

Berry Memories

Costco always has raspberries, and I always get some when I shop there, not usually  to use in recipes, although I have discovered the joys of freezer jam, but to munch down by the handful, to pig out, to indulge shamelessly. It is my definition of heaven on earth.
Whenever I eat a luscious raspberry I am transported back to my grandmother’s garden just outside of Portland, Oregon. I am nine years old again, and I am picking raspberries and eating them indiscriminately, wantonly, not knowing that I will never again have such a close relationship with this exquisite fruit.
Being raised in Western Oregon is at the same time a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because of the temperate climate, the definite identifiable seasons that don’t pass too quickly, the trees and flowers, the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, the nearness both to mountains and shore. It is a curse because with all of that perfection, you get spoiled, and no other place you live will ever measure up.
Nothing assails the senses like a trip to a farmer’s market where all this bounty is available. As a teen, I picked strawberries and green beans every summer to earn money for school clothes, and went in the fall with my mother and grandmother to harvest pears, apples, nuts and other tree fruits to fill the larder. I have joked with friends that I was raised in Oregon on nuts and berries, which explains why I like to hibernate in the winter like the bears.
One of the reasons I appreciate raspberries is that I know how hard it is to retrieve them. Thorny bushes can be intimidating, and the berries hide demurely behind leaves so the picker has to risk the thorns to find the treasure--life's like that sometimes. Like many other fruits, berries have to be picked at just the right moment. If too ripe they don’t keep very long, but if not ripe enough they’re too tart.
Mother used to can raspberries by the quart, back in the days before we had a freezer, and when it came to making punch for a party, she conjured up a magnificent nectar with a quart of those berries, some raspberry sherbet, some lemon-lime soda and other magical ingredients. We had fresh raspberry shortcake in season, but never enough, and in the winter we had raspberry jam, raspberry jello, and whatever delicious raspberry concoctions her creative mind could imagine. Since leaving home, I have paid the same kind of homage to the genius who first paired raspberries with chocolate.
Some people don’t like raspberries because of the seeds, but they just don’t know how to eat them. I learned in my grandmother’s raspberry patch that you put the tasty little red gems on your tongue, then press against the roof of your mouth to crush the berry, coaxing the sweet juice to dance joyfully with your taste buds. That way the seeds don’t have a chance to get stuck in your teeth. If you must chew, just don’t bite down all the way.
As I remember them, of course, Oregon raspberries were as big as thimbles and loaded with juice and flavor. I’ve been accused of exaggerating the big-ness and best-ness of everything western Oregon has to offer, and though I may be guilty of bragging, I’m not wrong.
So every time I go to Costco when it's not berry season where I now live, I grab a package of raspberries and I am immediately transported for a delicious moment back to my grandmother’s garden when I was nine years old and nothing mattered except finding the next thimble-sized, perfectly sweet ripe raspberry.


Janice said...

My mom was raised in Portland and she talked about raspberry and strawberry picking. She raised us to LOVE both fruits and appreciate what backbreaking work it is go have them. I always buy raspberries at Costco too.

jww said...

You may indeed be bragging but you are indeed right. I miss the NW as much as you do now, and my kids have those same types of memories of their childhoods as you do of yours. Almost. Raspberries are heavenly--I could eat them every day of my life. Raw is best.

Janet Kay Jensen said...

Oregon grows the best berries!

Mary said...

Last year my raspberry bushes actually produced a few clumps of fruit, but none of if ever made it to the house. Those berries are just too irresistible right out of the briers.