Berries!

I’ve been promising to post about our berry picking. We have done a decent bit of berry picking this past month. As I sit lethargically in front of my window air conditioning unit, I think it is the right time to tell you about it.

We began our berry adventures with strawberries at Red Fire Farm, then cherries at Tougas Family Farm, then a little raspberry picking at Olde Nourse Farm, and lastly some gooseberry, red and black currant picking at Olde Nourse Farm again.

Red Fire Farm Strawberries.

Our strawberry picking adventures at Red Fire Farm were dwarfed in my enthusiasm for our time with chickens and goats, and so I didn’t take any pictures of our berry picking.  We picked our 8 quarts of what I’d call strawberry seconds with Martin while talking about sustainable communities, and froze them whole when we got home for use later. I’ve already gotten really good smoothies out of them (a handful of strawberries, 1/2 cup sophia’s yogurt, a small handful of rolled oats, and a dash of honey), which has worked out well in this heat!

Sour Cherries, very coyly hanging out.

Cherry picking.  Now, that is a whole other thing.  Cherries are pretty unique in MA.  Not many places grow them, and even fewer have cherry PYO.  But Tougas Family Farm opens up their cherry orchards to pickers of the cherry cult (there really is a cult following) only a few days each year.  I think I could consider myself part of the cherry picking cult.  I stalk the Tougas Farm web page all late June, early July, hoping that the day they are open for cherry picking is one of the days I have a car. Last year, I wasn’t so lucky.  But this year, the cosmos aligned in my favor, allowing me to pick cherries during their best year yet.

The Tougas Cherry Orchard. This year they used these spandy tarps that really improved the yield compared to all previous years. Apparently, the cherries were far more prone to splitting and spoiling without this type of shade.

Well, I drove out early to be at Tougas Farm by the time it opened its cherry orchard.  I found myself in good company- a good crowd of people ready to scamper after those dangling wonders.

Talk about 'low hanging fruit.' Black sweet cherries.

The cherries hang in lovely bunches in the low cherry trees (or more like tall bushes) making for very easy picking. Tougas has sweet black and blush cherries, and has one sour cherry tree.

Blush sweet cherries.

Allow me to be honest.  That one sour cherry tree.  I perhaps picked about half, maybe a third of all the ripe cherries off of it.  Me along with three other sour cherry followers.  Did I feel remorse for all those people who would not get sour cherries?  Not really.  I got a lot of sour cherries, and woke up extra early for them. I was quite pleased with myself.

Look at them all. Sour cherries. Sour cherry syrup. Sour cherry pie. Sour cherry jam. All dancing in my head.

After that initial rush at the sour cherries (I will admit I sort of sprinted to the one lone sour cherry tree when we were all allowed into the orchard) I was a bit more kind and neighborly (as Mr. Rogers would put it).  I then picked the rest of the sweet cherries with kind conversation with fellow berry pickers.  I didn’t attack anyone’s kid to get at their cherries or anything.  This was a concern of Theresa’s.  She had to leave me to go cherry picking all by myself and worried a bit about having to bail me out after of some crazy cherry picking misdeeds.  Luckily no.  But, I did get 22 pounds of cherries! About 1/3 sour, 1/3 black and 1/3 blush sweet. We ate them on practically everything for a while.  It was delightful.  Then we preserved the rest.

Serious cherry preserving. Theresa pitting and slicing cherries for drying.

Pitted blush cherries for freezing. Thank god for our cherry pitter!

We dried and froze them whole.  We did not jam.  This is because we have decided that hot weather and a single air conditioner in our bedroom does not constitute a controlled enough environment to can in.  And it seems as though most weekends have been either busy or too hot to hover over a big pot of boiling water for the day.  So, we have been freezing our bounty so that we can jam, preserve, or whatever whenever the weather permits.  We also intend to not make as much jam, and to make smaller batches of more interesting jams and preserves.  I can’t wait!

So, that was cherries.  We also managed to get a bit of raspberry picking in.  Not a ton.  We wanted some of the early summer raspberry crop and simply picked a bit at Old Nourse Farm one morning and brought back our raspberries, ate some, and froze the rest.

Raspberry freezing. Same as strawberry and cherry freezing- laid out on a cookie sheet, frozen for a few hours then rehoused in freezer bags. This keeps them from getting freezer burn, and also keeps them from sticking together.

The next berry picking adventure entailed more exotic fruits.  Olde Nourse Farm has gooseberry bushes, and red and black currant bushes.  This is of particular excitement for me.  I love gooseberries and currants. They are still novel to me and I quite like their tart musky flavors.  So much so, that I called Olde Nourse Farm everyday for about a two weeks inquiring about the ripeness of these precious items. So, I headed out on my own, one early morning to get picking!

Gooseberries in the morning sun.

Gooseberries are interesting.  They grow on squat little funny looking bushes that are covered in lichen, and the berries look like funny veined balloons.  Perhaps the most remarkable thing of these berries is just how difficult it can be to pick them.  The bushes are covered with perhaps the most gnarly thorns, and most of the berries grow deep in the bushes.

Thorniness.

It can be a little unwelcoming to begin gooseberry picking, but after gleefully getting scratched up last year and reaping the gooseberry benefits, I dove right in.  After a while of gooseberry picking, as I was running out of time, so I ran after the currants.  Red currants are super easy to pick-they grow in long sprays that you can just pluck.  But many weren’t that ripe, so I was able to harvest only some.

Red Currants picked in long sprays of berries. Very nice.

Lastly, I went for the black currants.  This was the first time I’d picked them.  Black currants are really rare in MA, mostly because they are illegal (some old laws having to do with logging….) and so I ran over to the newly discovered black currant bushes at Olde Nourse Farm and dug in.

A bunch of black currants.

Well, I have to say, black currants grow nothing like red currants.  They grow in bunches of only a few berries deep in their dark bushes, giving off musky minty smells.  I suddenly felt some level of kinship to the characters of English Country children stories (how this is a relevant reference, I haven’t a clue, but I felt that way), with strange berries and mystical happenings- for every small bunch of ripe black currants an earwig sat.  Every time.  Very peculiar.  It was then very clear- black currants are mystical berries. Not only where the black currants in small bunches, they were few and far in between. I had to dig very deep into this dark and strange smelling land of earwigs to get a hold of these berries.  But, I managed pretty well, and as I ran off to the farm stand to pay for my berries, I shook some earwigs off.  I also grabbed a few more gooseberries while on my way to pay.  I was rather sad.  I hadn’t managed to pick nearly as much as I had wanted.  This type of berry picking was more difficult and one set of hands simply didn’t get as much- only 11 pounds or so in total.  Which, as Theresa points out is nothing to sneeze at. Though, a lingering sadness still remains….

Black currants. Mystical berries.

My exotic berry picking loot. Gooseberries in the front, red and black currants in the back.

Other than eating a few of these raw and making a goosberry tart, we froze these guys for novel preserves.  These berries can be eaten raw, but are pretty astringent or tart and so they are usually cooked before eating.

Vibrant red currants-washing in our sink.

I am still looking forward to preserving these berries in unique jams, preserves, syrups, you name it.  I’ve been following a few blogs with pretty inspiring recipes and ideas for preserving (Local Kitchen, Food in Jars).  I will certainly keep you posted.  Of course, after this heat wave!

I hope everyone stays cool today!

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4 Responses to Berries!

  1. Marianne says:

    I really appreciated your info about cherry picking at Tsougas when you first posted it. I didn’t know they did cherries, in fact had not been there in several years since we switched our blueberry picking to closer to home. Anyway, I picked about 5 lbs. 2 weeks ago and it was great! Also was able to get some local cherries from Carlson Orchards in Harvard, already picked, at Verrill Farm (Concord). Yay cherries! Now on to blueberries when things cool off a bit.

    • I’m glad you were able to get the shout out and get your hands on those delicious danlging items!

      • Yep, illegal black currants. Back in the early 1900’s black currants spread white pine blister rust disease, which was a threat to the timber industry. The US government made them illegal nation wide. In 1966, the US government left it up to individual states to decide on black currant regulation. MA still hasn’t made them legal, but no one really cares anymore. 🙂 So, yay for these awesome berries! I hope you get to enjoy your neighbor’s fruit.

  2. Lorraine says:

    I was surprised to read black currants were not legal as one of my fellow gardeners has bushes in her plot. The birds do enjoy them as much as she does. The bushes grow pretty thick.

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