Whoever coined the phrase “life is just a bowl of berries” must have been thinking of dessert on our farm in summer. Our fingers are stained a bluish-purple from an afternoon of picking.

Since late June, berries from the garden have been making their way into bowls on the kitchen table. Strawberries, that delicious fruit, are fairly easy to grow. With several varieties planted, the season begins with our favorite, an heirloom variety that my farmer’s family has grown here for decades. It is a small berry that is a deep red through and through, and has me crawling through the plants for two weeks in search of the exquisite berry that freezes well.

The other strawberry varieties are appreciated also, giving us almost a month of fresh from the garden strawberry eating. Once those are done, there is an explosion of berries all clamoring for our taste buds, requiring different modes of picking, exercise and danger. The sunshine is good.

The gooseberry blooms early and from its spot in the garden their flowers are often ignored. This year the crop looks good. As we have shared them with many of the visitors to the farm the last few weeks. It is fun to watch their reaction and hear how they describe the taste. Depending on the gooseberry ripeness it can be tart, sweet, or both. I hear they are good in pies, but we tend to eat gooseberries fresh or frozen without sugar. They almost need a ‘be careful’ sign warning of the thorns one encounters when reaching for the fruit that grows all along the stems. Biting flies and mosquitoes find a stationary berry picker.

My arms and legs bear scratches from picking gooseberries (or is it from the wild black raspberries?). Their canes also have nasty thorns, but at least the ‘black caps’ are borne high on the canes. The fruit is well worth any scratch, as the flavor is delightful. Tame black raspberry plants are sporting berries that are not quite ready yet.

Red raspberries are also displaying their first crop of the year. A smaller crop in early summer, the raspberries almost melt in our mouths on these hot days. They too have thorns. A bird in a nearby honeysuckle scolds me all the time I am picking berries.

The currants and black currants that grow in a shady spot seem to be taking a rest this year, or perhaps the birds have beat me to it as seems to be the case with the cherry trees. Only two trees remain of the eight we have planted the through the years. But from my kitchen window, I see birds continually flying in and out as though it were the newest and latest new fast food pickup window. This year, I will be canning cherries with guests from Houston, Texas, who had a lot of fun picking the fruit!

Mulberries have out produced the demands of the farm birds. As we gently shook the branches to hasten picking, our bare feet were stained purple by the berries on the ground. Usually we just eat the berries fresh, but this year I am trying my hand at mulberry jelly.

The nice thing about picking fruit on these hot summer days is that we employ the policy of eat as you go! Just make sure more ends up in the bucket than the mouth. It sure makes all that crawling, bending, kneeling, stretching, climbing into the tree or ladders well worth the effort.


Essays from My Farm House Kitchen | Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Renae B. Vander Schaaf, freelance writer, lives on a real working farm in northwest Iowa.

To Contact Renae B. Vander Schaaf, please email her at [email protected]