Raspberries: capturing the sweetness of summer for the winter ahead

Boxes of raspberries on their way to the freezer. Photo:Sigrid Coffin

Boxes of raspberries on their way to the freezer. Photo:Sigrid Coffin

Last week, I emptied out the little chest freezer in the basement, which was still harboring bags of kale, tubs of pesto and a few packets of deer meat from last fall. I carried all the food up to the kitchen freezer so we will eat it up. Then I unplugged the freezer in the basement, wiped it down with a bleach solution and left it with the lid propped open, figuring I would give it a rest before this year’s garden harvest starts in earnest.

Turns out, I was being overly optimistic. Because a couple days later, my friend Noelle posted a photo to her Facebook page that sent me marching right back down cellar to plug the freezer in again.

Her picture showed a colander of fresh raspberries on her kitchen counter. Another quart box of berries, red and juicy, sat beside it. “The season begins,” she wrote.

I knew that Noelle’s photo was code, the cue for Douglas and me to retrieve our stack of green cardboard boxes from the barn and head over to the raspberry patch that she and Dan generously invite us to pick each summer.

Douglas at work in the berry patch. Not a bad spot to spend a summer afternoon. Photo: Sigrid Coffin

Douglas at work in the berry patch. Not a bad spot to spend a summer afternoon. Photo: Sigrid Coffin

This is no ordinary berry patch; it’s huge, dense, wild and rambling. It grows high on an open hillside, with views of the river and the mountains beyond stretching off to the horizon. It’s a pretty sweet place to spend an hour or two, alone or in quiet company, contemplating the passage of time and the changing of the season. Or not contemplating anything at all.

This year, the berries are especially big, juicy and prolific. The first afternoon we visited, we came away with 10 boxes. The next day I worked late in the newsroom, but Douglas picked nine quarts on his own before I came home. A couple of evenings later, we staggered off with 11 more boxes. Last night, another nine boxes were lined up on our counter.

As you can imagine, it’s all we can do to deal with this bounty. There’s no time right now for pies or tarts, jams or jellies, even if we were so inclined. We simply spread the berries in a single layer on a couple of cookie sheets and slide them into the upstairs freezer, which can accommodate two cookie sheets at a time. In two hours, the individual berries are frozen solid, as hard as little red marbles.

We use a spatula to slide them into ziplock bags, suck the air out and seal them tight. Then we carry them downstairs to the little chest freezer, where they are stacking up now like cordwood.

So far, we’re keeping ahead of this tsunami, this avalanche of berries. Each trip to the cellar feels like money in the bank, an investment in the future. We’ll enjoy these delectable bites of summer all winter long, mostly on cereal or with ice cream or yogurt. Maybe we’ll make a few jars of jam to give away at Christmas. Maybe we’ll make a raspberry pie and invite Dan and Noelle over for dessert some cold winter night.

Though it seems impossible now, we know from experience that the raspberries will be just about gone by mid-April or so. That will leave us rummaging forlornly through the frosty packages of beans and kale, looking for one last bit of ripe, red sweetness to remind us of the summer past and assure us of the summer still to come.

Read more of Meg Haskell at livingitforward.bangordailynews.com.

Meg Haskell

About Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at mhaskell@bangordailynews.com.