On Gathering the Last Fruit of Summer
On first weekend in October this year, the leaves were well on their way to peak color, and it was long past the prime harvest season in the Berkshires. I decided to take advantage of a rare afternoon off to hike to the top of one my favorite spots atop Mt Washington, and enjoy the fall colors.
It's a hike I have taken many times and know well, in part because it's a great place to pick blueberries. Unfortunately, because the height of the summer tourist season in the Berkshire is exactly when blueberries ripen, I don't often get the chance to go wild blueberry picking. It's one life's regrets that I don't do that more often. So imagine my surprise when reaching the top of this mountain, I noticed these purple spots in the underbrush. Could there still be ripe blueberries this late in the season? I hadn't seen any berries on the way up, but right at the top, which gets the most sunlight, and the most wind exposure, there were still quite a few berries still clinging to the bush. Had the birds and the bears been so sated that they left some for me? This was unusually late in the season, and the berries were a little withered. But just as Late Harvest grapes make for the sweetest wines, blueberries which have ripened this long, and have had some of the their water evaporate, are more delicious, and sweeter, than berries picked early in the year.
A chef in a blueberry patch is like Winne The Pooh at a beehive. The urge to pick wild berries is old and primal. Especially with low bush berries, it really helps to sit on the ground, so as to better see and reach in the brush, just as our ancestors did, before they learned to walk up right. It's not just free food, its food of the rarest and highest integrity- and all too difficult to find today. There are no distributors, processors, or delivery guys involved-its literally hand to mouth. Very few of us eat much food like that.
Most of us stopped being hunter-gatherers a long time ago, but one of the joys of living in the Berkshires is that we can still pick wild berries in season, or go to pick your own orchards to gather fruit. The experience is completely different from buying pre packed fruit in a crowded, neon lit supermarket. The Berkshires and Hudson Valley have many orchards, and if you didn't pick any of your own berries or fruit this year, you've missed out on a rewarding and fun experience. And of course once you've gathered fruit, you can take them home to bake with.