I have been picking blueberries as a form of entertainment for as long as I can remember. My dad was a big fan of pick-your-own (u-pick-it for short) farms before they became as popular as they are now. Back then there was no such thing as organic so we all just dug into the chemically manipulated crops with abandon. The fruit picked by you, ripe and ready to enjoy, was so far superior to anything that you could buy in a grocery store that picking strawberries, blueberries, peaches and apples became a source of cheap entertainment for our perpetually cash strapped family. You can't eat a movie after watching it but after a day (or at least a few hours) at the farm you came home with something substantial to enjoy for a few days or weeks or months after. My mother knew nothing about preserving so strawberries were eaten immediately and my Nana stewed the peaches and tucked them into the fridge to extend their life. Somehow those stewed peaches had a way of bringing forth family we hadn't seen in ions. No sooner had the pot cooled enough to dig in and it seemed that there would be a knock on the door and some long forgotten relative would be standing there waiting for a serving of those luscious peaches. We did figure out that blueberries were easily frozen for long term storage so those we had the pleasure of enjoying all winter long. Apples are so forgiving that we could just tuck the basket into a cool spot in the basement and they managed to stay around for weeks and weeks without much in the way of rot. And so we quickly had a rhythm to our summers moving from one crop to the next and always remaining fiercely loyal to a farm that we made friends with. My father made a point of schmoozing the owner or in the case of our favorite peach and apple orchard, a particular farm hand, who after sending everyone out to pick would tap my father on the shoulder and point us in a slightly different direction, over there you will find the big ones, he would tell us. I loved coming home sweaty, sticky and smelling of the juices of whatever we were picking. I loved the taste of just picked fruit. If you didn't know that fruit was never meant to be eaten ice cold you did at that moment. On a hot day that fruit was positively warm and yet was more delicious and refreshing then a cold drink could ever be.
As I got older my mom dropped out of the "pick-your-own" equation. Never one to be in good health or remotely physically fit, she quickly lost her taste for standing in a field in the sweltering heat. But dad and I were troopers to the end. Unfortunately, our chosen farms were not as accommodating. One by one the farms closed to us, becoming housing developments or strictly commercial operations. Strawberries were hard on his knees and peaches and apples were replaced by condos and townhouses. But the blueberries stayed, at least for a while. And so did our blueberry picking ritual. We always went to the farm just before the July 4th holiday. The thought of fireworks without a fresh baked blueberry pie to accompany the festivities was unheard of. Dad and I would rise early, drive the hour to the farm and pick until we had a good ten pounds worth. The farm owners were friendly faces we saw year after year. They always greeted my dad with big smiles and outstretched hands. The berries were delicious and the old pump on the property was a great way to cool off after picking. Dad and I would take turns pumping water over each others heads, laughing about how ridiculous we must have looked dripping wet and covered with blue stains. Sometimes we even remembered to throw a towel in the car to dry our heads with. A stop at the diner on the way home for a cold drink made each trip memorable. I picked at that farm even after my parents had retired south. Dad's long gone but I never lost my desire to pick blues. Every year right around this time the film loop of memories in my head are switched on and I start yearning for a blueberry field to sweat in.
When the "rents" retired to land of palmetto bugs and early-bird specials I continued to chase pick-your-own farms. I was still not organically enlightened but I sure knew that produce picked when actually ripe and ready to eat was far better then that stuff grown for travel and storage. But without the picking partner of my childhood new traditions had to be forged. And isn't that what growing up really is, the opportunity to carry-on the old with a twist, your own twist. For any young-uns out there, this part might require a small history lesson on technology. Before iPhones and Android platforms there were transistor radios and eventually the Walkman. You couldn't make a phone call or find a local restaurant but you could tune in to a local radio station or even play a cd of your choice, wherever you happen to be hanging at that moment. I don't actually remember when I discovered National Public Radio but it was a little like crack for me - one hit and I was addicted. I was never much of a music kind of gal so NPR quickly became my soundtrack. I spent many an hour standing or squatting in a field, headphones in place, NPR yacking in my ear, the only other sound leaking through, the plunk, plunk, plunk of whatever I was picking.
And then I stopped . . . not the NPR . . . not the sweet memories of those hours spent with my Dad . . . not the sweet memories of that fruit on my tongue . . . just the picking.
I couldn't do it anymore. All that NPR news on the state of our food chain, all that free flow of internet information, the Environmental Working Group's list - clean fifteen, dirty dozen . . . AHHHHHHH! I couldn't go out into those chemically treated fields and pick and bring that home and feed it to my family, feed it to my baby girl. I was already glowing in the dark from years of exposure but she still had a chance and so most of our fruit came from the fancy shmancy organic grocer, our veggies from the garden and eventually an organic CSA.
And then . . . I found . . . this place. And now, as we drive along quiet country roads, I tell my daughter stories about the Grandpop she never met, about picking berries, about baking pie for the fourth of July. I drive slowly so that we have lots of time to laugh before the sweat starts flowing. And when we get to the field, while my daughter butterfly flits from one bush to another, one berry for the can five for her mouth, I listen to NPR live on my iPhone.
And isn't that what growing up really is, the opportunity to carry-on the old traditions with a twist, our very own twist.