Blueberry Pickin’

As children, we begin to make associations between each season and its traditions. For many of us, spring is a time we remember picking flowers for our loved ones; summer is filled with memories of water play and sunny days; fall holds the memories of choosing pumpkins and picking apples; and winter is a time those of us in the north remember playing in the snow.

For me, some of my best summer memories are from the berry patch. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and red raspberries- we lived in an area where we had easy access to all of them. In fact, within walking distance of my grandparents’ farm was a very large strawberry patch, and a blueberry patch so extensive I’m not sure I ever reached its limits in all the years we spent picking there. There’s no end to the stories I could tell from strawberry picking- like the time my mom went to pick dressed as an old lady because she was convinced that the elder clientele were directed to the most bountiful areas of the patch. And the much less amusing time she spent bent over the berry bushes in the hot sun for so long that she had a sunburn that blistered between the line of her shirt and shorts.

But my fondest memories are from picking blueberries. The couple who owned the blueberry patch across the road from my grandparents’ farm were so sweet, and would deliver patrons to the best part of the berry patch via golf carts. Mom would always tell us she was going to have us weighed both before picking and after so she knew how many berries we’d eaten so we could pay for them (clearly she never did). Regardless, we would always sneak a couple, because…blueberries.

In the years since my grandparents have both passed away, the family farm remains, and a high school classmate of mine has built a home where the cherry trees once stood next to the blueberry patch. A high school classmate of Ryan’s (and a former coworker of mine, from my first job as a convenience store clerk when I was 15) lives next to her. It’s funny how things work out when you get older- passing acquaintances become forever enmeshed in our past, somehow making them an integral part of who we are.

I don’t think I’ve picked blueberries since the summer before I started college, a decade and a half ago, though I stop often at the patch near our house and buy the already-picked ones. For a long time, I couldn’t find time between school, work, chores, and life. Then it was because I had three babies in three years and that was a lot to manage. But a couple of weeks ago I finally decided it was time. The boys and I got up early on a Wednesday morning and headed off to the berry patch. I was not optimistic that we’d have a positive experience, but I really wanted to go and pass on the nostalgia that I tend to associate with these summer traditions, so we did it anyway.

Man, did I underestimate my kids (not the first time, folks, and certainly won’t be the last). Armed with a one-gallon ice cream bucket (for me) and three half-gallon buckets, my boys and I hit the blueberry bushes. For one solid hour, my friends, my three boys and I picked berries, and sang songs, and laughed, and there was not one fight or negative word the entire time. They listened, they followed directions, they didn’t wander off- not even my wild child. That hour was probably the single most peaceful block of time in our entire summer, and it resulted in two and a half gallons of blueberries, which have since been frozen, turned into blueberry muffins, baked into blueberry scones and eaten by the handful. One of my brothers has a favorite blueberry cake that I usually make only once a year (my oldest son asked if that meant it’s a “seasonal item”) that we may make again with our bounty.

In the end, we left with probably way more berries than we really needed, but they’ll last us past the season. And so will the memories.

xoxo,

~d

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Guest post: Two Worlds Collide

Allison at the Holistic Homesteader asked me a few months ago to write this guest post.  I’m honored and flattered to have been chosen for this task, and it’s taken me awhile to find a topic relevant to both our blogs.  But here I am now, fumbling through like the klutz I am. Here goes…

First, if you don’t already know me, my name is Danielle Merrow.  I’ve been blogging at daniellemerrow.com since 2010 (!!!) about all kinds of random topics: life, interior design and decorating, cooking, baking, entertaining, parenting…basically, I’ll strike up a conversation with the Interwebz about pretty much anything.  I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for eleven years, and we have three sweet, cute, spunky little boys together: our oldest is six and a half, and our twins just turned four. We have a geriatric golden retriever (she’s fourteen) who’s a retired therapy dog; her main duties in life now include playing watchdog to our kids and cleaning up all the food they drop on the floor.  (Saves me some vacuuming time. And, we figure she’s earned it at this point.)

So what, you might be asking, does someone like me- a suburban soccer and baseball mom (admitting to those titles makes the me from ten years ago shudder.  Let’s just clarify: I do not drive a minivan.  I haven’t gone that far.) have to do with a self-professed all-natural, hippy, farming mama like Allison?  That, my friends, is a question with a short and a long answer. The short part? I was raised a country girl.  

The long answer is, while I was raised in the country, I longed to leave it (not my family, just small-town life) for more.  I grew up hearing my mom complain about how our town had so few options for shopping, restaurants, entertainment- so few options for just about everything.  I wanted more. For many years, I thought I could hack it as an NYC girl, but I found a college closer to home in a small city that I fell in love with, and a husband who loved it too, and so we chose to raise our family in this area.  Here we are, fifteen years later, raising our family in the suburbs and trying to simultaneously instill the same values of hard work and wholesome living I experienced as the granddaughter of two sets of farmers.

My parents didn’t have a farm when I was a kid, but both sets of my grandparents, plus a great uncle and great aunt, still had working farms.  My parents did what they could, when they could, to continue helping out. My dad is a truck driver; he works long days, and when my grandparents were still alive, he would get up at 3AM, drive till 4 or 5PM, then work at one farm or the other until 10 or 11 at night during planting season or the harvest.  Then he’d get up the next day and do it all over again. My mom stayed at home with us kids, and taught us the basics of homesteading. We planted a big garden every spring, and harvested and canned and froze and stored and preserved as much as we could in the fall. To this day, waking up to a crisp fall morning takes me back to the days of my youth when I’d wake up to the smell of my mom’s spaghetti sauce simmering in the kitchen.  While I have her recipe and technically COULD make it myself, I just haven’t worked up to that point yet. I have, however, used her methods for freezing my own fresh green beans, zucchini, corn, and jellies.

My parents’ parents both raised beef cows.  That means, in simple terms, that I didn’t eat beef from a grocery store until I was in college (this may be slightly exaggerated, but not by much).  Once I was out on my own, it wasn’t long before I’d convinced my better half that we needed to find farm fresh beef, stat. And today, our boys get positively giddy when we come home after a weekend with family hauling coolers loaded with farm fresh beef.  

I worried, briefly, that they’d be upset knowing they were eating a cow they’d helped to feed only weeks before.  I had forgotten though, that there’s actually a sense of pride that comes from eating what you’ve helped to grow. My boys only helped with that cow a handful of times, but they know now what the result is of that hard work: full bellies.  

Because we grew up way on the outskirts of a very small town, the nearest grocery store was 20 minutes away.  Today, we can see the Walmart from our kitchen window. Still, old habits die hard, and I’ve tried to train myself to forget the convenience that’s so tantalizingly close; I refuse to run to the store for single ingredients for a recipe when I can come up with a simple substitute.  (Think, adding vinegar to milk to make buttermilk, or adding butter to milk to make heavy cream. Mixing common spices to make mixes like Old Bay, taco seasoning, chili seasoning, or dry ranch- those little concoctions have saved me many trips to the store with overtired toddlers, and saved dinner on countless occasions.)

Bottom line, after all of that, is that the homesteading lifestyle doesn’t come with strict guidelines.  The basic principles can apply pretty much anywhere. Don’t have a yard to plant a garden? Go support local farmers at a farmer’s market (this is the perfect time of year to go!) and buy enough fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk to freeze, can, or preserve.  Buy your beef, pork, and chicken from local farmers by the whole or half- having a freezer full of protein makes planning and preparing meals so much easier! And using fresh, local ingredients makes them taste so much better.

Xoxo,

~d