Hellbent for Berries
Worth every battle
The only bad thing about raspberries is remembering how to spell it. Everything else about the berry is perfect. I first encountered them in my father’s garden. He loved when his children would join him there. Delving into the raspberry bushes involved standing out in the hot sun and bravely facing the dangers of buzzing bees and prickly branches.
Even under these harsh conditions, my brothers and I took the challenge. Once we saw the bright little red colors beckoning us forward, there was no turning back. I mean, you could turn back, but then you’d be the only one empty-handed on the way home. I was determined to go forth into the battlefield of berries and emerge victorious. It was important to take it one step at a time. Then reach out with trust.
Despite the fear of bee stings in the summer heat and getting scratches on my arms and legs, I was able to touch the berries one by one to decide if they were ripe for the picking. Dad said they should just fall right off, don’t pull too hard. Good advice.
We’d walk home single file on the narrow dirt path covered by a shady canopy of dark green trees, carrying our baskets of bounty back to the cozy kitchen. The counter was above our heads so we couldn’t quite see what Dad was doing, but from experience we had a pretty good idea. Yes! He handed us each a bowl of vanilla ice cream, fresh from the freezer, with our still-warm-from-the-sun raspberries all over it. We were stunned every time. Speechless. How could Dad create such an incredible gift for us? What a brilliant idea. Cold and warm at the same time, with the perfect blend of sweetness.
Everyone got quiet, each indulging in our own private bliss, as we ate up the fruits of our labor. It was one of the few times there was no talking among us, no discussions or arguments of any kind. You could only hear the sound of spoons clinking on bowls and sometimes a simple, “Mm-hmm.” It was well worth going into the hot battle of bees and bushes for such a delicious reward.
Now living in New York, I have a different kind of fruitful scene. Raspberry season, along with free outdoor concerts and dancing, makes summer in the city not only bearable but beautiful.
The sidewalks are filled with fruit and vegetable stands on almost every corner it seems. Now the struggle for victory involves overcrowded streets and sticky humidity, but that’s nothing compared to the little red treasures in a box at such a reasonable cost. You could pay $2 - $4, depending. Sometimes as low as a dollar, but I would advise against it. The berries might turn out to be mushy disappointments with bits of mold.
Of course that never happens at my favorite stand on the corner of 68th and Columbus Avenue where the fruit is always fresh thanks to its seller named Salim. I don’t know how he handles so many customers at once, spinning around and smiling at every turn.
“A woman comes here every day and gets 20 boxes of raspberries. She has a big family,” says Salim. “Another guy gets them for his business. Raspberries are always popular, but this year more than ever.”
The boxes arrive from places like California, Oregon, and Washington State, but as with all good seasons, it must end. There comes a day when the supply is abruptly cut off. I’m always shocked and saddened each year. “Are you sure? Will there be any more shipments coming?” I ask all the sidewalk sellers. They shake their heads no. That’s it, over.
Whether grown in the wilds of my father’s New Jersey garden or shipped to the big city from the coast, raspberries are a perfect example of nature’s generous creativity. We get to have its unique beauty, delicate consistency, and exquisite flavor – with such robust nutrients too.
That’s why these days I’m immersed in the consumption of coconut yogurt with raspberries on top.
Or savoring them one by one.
Soon I vow to make cream pie. The recipe says it’s easy.
I have fought for the joy of raspberries my whole life. I suggest you do the same. If you run out of time, that's okay. All good seasons replenish.