Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Berry Pickin'

Homemade jam.  We treasure it like gold in this family, only bringing it out when company is over.  My mom keeps me stocked with jam - I just need to save the jars and get them back to her for future jars filled with heaven.  I remember as a kid we had rows of raspberries, and all summer it was our job to go pick the berries.  Through the spiders and bees, we would make it up and down each aisle looking for the perfect berries.  Not too light, not too dark - they had to pluck off the vine just right.  Eat one, save one, eat one, save one.  There is nothing better than fresh raspberries right off the vine.

My sister is the ultimate Martha Stewart.  She picked up all the "nesting traits" my mom had when we were kids.  She cans, grows her own herbs and veggies, bakes, and creates memories with her own kids with annual trips to the berry farm, Christmas Tree farm and pumpkin patch.  I, on the other hand, have discovered the better pumpkins can often be found right in front of the grocery store, artificial trees look just as pretty once decorated, and Smuckers makes a perfectly good PBJ for a 10 year old.

This year my sister invited me to go with she, her kids and my mom up to the berry farm to pick strawberries and raspberries.  Thinking this was a fun idea that I would not have done otherwise with my kids, I agreed to go with her.  She knew exactly what to do - grab a bin here, wait for the tractor ride there - she was a pro.  The tractor came and took us all to a patch far away from other pickers.  We started picking strawberries which were perfectly ripe and absolutely melted in our mouths.  Both of my girls started filling their bins, and soon we all had 3 full bins of berries.

We moved to the raspberry field and continued picking.  Suddenly it was 1975 and I was in my yard filling my bin with these wonderful perfect berries.  Eat one, save one, eat one, save one.  A little bee started following me to the best berries.  For some reason he wasn't as scary as the ones when I was a kid.  It was almost like he was helping me out~ "Where are we going?  Did you find some good ones over here?  Hey, wait for me, I'm a good helper!"

We filled 3 more bins with raspberries and headed to the checkstand.  They probably should have weighed each of us before and after picking to account for all the berries eaten along the way.  My sister and mom went through the checkout - their average amount spent was around $10.00 each.  I suddenly realized that I had 3 times that amount, since I had 3 very efficient berry pickers.  $37.00 later, I left the checkstand.  I thought to myself, "I could buy a lot of Smuckers for that $30.00".

I shrugged it off as a good day and fun experience and went home with my treasures.  I probably should have thought this through a bit further.  I was leaving the next day for a long weekend away, and the berries would go bad if I didn't do something with them ASAP.  Canning, freezing and jam making really wasn't in my game plan as I was scrambling to get everything done before I left.  It had to get done though.  I went to the store and bought Pectin and came home to begin the process.  I decided to just freeze the raspberries, as I could always decide to do something later with them.  I laid them carefully in Ziplock Freezer bags and set them in the freezer.  One down, one to go.

Now it was strawberry time.  I had also picked up some plastic freezer jam jars so I began preparing the strawberries.  I made 2 batches of jam and froze the rest of the berries.  Finally at 11:00 pm all the berries were done and the kitchen was clean.  In hindsight, I may have skipped the trip to the berry farm.  I should have timed it better and gone another day.  Would I trade the experience?  No.  Did I enjoy the trip back to 1975? Yes.  Now I have several jars of heaven in my freezer and I'm glad I took the time to make them.

I will still buy my Smuckers for those every day PBJ's, but look forward to the good stuff, picked and prepared with love by us.

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