Yesterday morning, some friends here in Ithaca took me blueberry picking. We went to Grisamore Farms, just north of town, and spent an hour and a half filling our baskets with fat, powdery blue fruit, chatting the whole time and enjoying being up and at it on a Sunday.
Growing up, the only berries we ever picked at farms were strawberries; all my other berrying was done in the wild. My cousins and I picked blackberries in the woods surrounding their house, accompanied by my grandmother, a skilled and experienced woodland berryer. She would go out all summer long, slowly accumulating berries in the freezer, set aside for Thanksgiving pies. My mother and I would gather wild blueberries on the Adirondack lakeshores when we went camping; we’d add the harvest to our breakfasts, which made for the best blueberry pancakes ever. I remember one trip where we cooked up the pancakes in the rain, every droplet hissing as it hit the pan. The berries were always small, and very hard-won. Attire was long pants, long sleeves, sneakers, insect repellent. There were a lot of brambles and a lot of bugs. It took a long time to fill your pail, and you had to know all the right places to go to find the bushes. It was rough going. Nothing ever tasted so good.
This is why, in recent years, when I have gone domesticated berrying with friends, or even combed the overgrown canes at the neighbor’s place up in Maine, I always feel a bit like I’m cheating. The berries are huge. The picking is extremely easy. Half the time you can stand in one place for five or ten minutes, and still not pick everything you can reach. You don’t have to fight the undergrowth or swat at a million mosquitoes. Heck, half the time you don’t even need long pants. It goes very quickly. You always end up with way more than you can use at once.
This last part isn’t a tragedy, though. I’ve done a lot of berry-freezing and dessert-making as a result of my surplus. Our freezer at home is filled with the harvest from a June strawberry run at Jones Farm. In Wisconsin, we found a great place for raspberries once our way back from Governor Dodge, and filled the freezer with those, which Abby turned into smoothies and I turned into pancake topping for months afterward. This weekend, I gave some of what I picked to my companions, who live in Ithaca full-time and are thus better equipped to absorb such a berry surfeit, but ended up with about four quarts, some of which I froze, and some of which I hot-water rinsed for refrigerated storage.
To use up the remainder, I decided on a blueberry crisp. I used this recipe, with modifications—some intentional, some accidental. I misread “half stick butter” as “half cup butter” (i.e. one stick—who puts the measurements in terms of sticks, anyway? that’s a quarter cup, people), and ended up having to enlarge the streusel somewhat. I used more brown sugar and less granulated than the recipe called for, and less sugar overall. I didn’t have any nutmeg. I added some salt to the topping, and substituted sliced almonds for the pecans, which I didn’t have on hand. This was my first time putting nuts in a crisp topping, and I really liked the results. I think almonds might have been better than pecans honestly. They complement the blueberries quite well.
It still feels cushy, but this farm-style berrying in growing on me. Even so, I still have a special fondness for wild-berry anything, whether it’s my aunt’s blackberry pie (a birthday tradition), or blueberry pancakes on the camp stove. Speaking of pancakes, it’s time for breakfast!