My Love Affair With Fresh Berries

How many moments in your life can you think of that were made memorable by food?  Perhaps you recall a delicious meal or even something that was particularly not so delicious.  For me, one of those top food memories (and top memories, in general) was when I was about 10 years old and for the first time tasted a plump, ripe, wild blackberry straight from the bush.  I’m sure I had eaten blackberries before, but nothing had tasted so euphorically good until that moment.

My family and I went berry picking (strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries) this past weekend at a local farm.  We are fortunate in Southwestern Pennsylvania to be surrounded by a lot of good agriculture, including farms that provide recreation for families, such as berry and apple picking, pumpkin festivals, hayrides, etc.  Anyway, everyone who has tasted the berries that we picked has commented on how sweet, fresh, and delicious they are.  One of the moms from my son’s playgroup said that she could “taste the sunshine” on the blackberries.  And one of the dads from said playgroup commented that he’s from California where strawberries are produced in abundance, but the fresh and natural berries from our region were winners every time!  I mean no offense to California in any way (the state is only guilty of being a wonderful place to grow things), but it seems to me that the over-sized strawberries that are mass-produced for distribution nearly all year long to all parts of the country lack a lot of flavor when compared to something grown naturally and picked fresh.  But, really, how good can a fruit be when it is made on such a large scale, using growing methods that make it appear to be on steroids, then it is picked before reaching its ripeness so that it can be shipped thousands of miles to be consumed by someone living in a snow-covered region.

I know, I’m rambling, but my point is this….eating fresh and local is not just something we should strive to do for the sustainability of our food system, ecosystem, and local economies (although these are mighty compelling arguments, as well).  The truth is that eating produce within a couple days (or even hours!) of being harvested simply tastes good!  Ask anyone in the Midwest U.S. about eating sweetcorn that’s more than one day old.  I had a friend growing up in Ohio who lived on a farm whose family felt that the only way to eat sweetcorn was to have the water boiling on the stove when going out to pick it, then to shuck the corn while running back from the field to get it cooked and on the plate as soon as humanly possible.  To make a similar point, do you or does anyone you know grow garden tomatoes?  The difference is clear between what’s fresh and what’s not.

So have you been able to recall yet any similar food memories of your own?  I’ve had this “fresh produce experience” with pears picked straight from the tree, and from a fresh mango on a beach in northeastern Mexico.  Anyway, back to the berries – if you live in a region where berries are in season right now, be sure to take advantage of it.  Make a point to visit one of your local farms or farm markets, or seek out local produce in your grocery store.  If your store doesn’t have it, be sure to tell the manager that you would like to see more local produce, because eating local is the right thing to do for our taste buds, as well as for the earth.

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