Friday, June 12, 2009

The Hoods Are Here!

There aren't too many great things that the Pacific Northwest can claim come from all our rain. If you grew up here, the benefits are many, but you are used to a lot of grey skies and it is just normal. However, if you are from out of town, the rain can be a bit of a complete downer. In fact, I have known more than a couple of people who needed to move due to the onset of seasonal depression from all our rain.

It makes things green. We have cheap hydroelectric power. But most of all, we have access to Hood Strawberries. Oh dear sweet Mary Mother of God, these berries are so good. You will only find them in Pacific Northwest grocery stores which sell seasonal berries because they exist for only three weeks out of the year and don't keep much more than a couple of days. They don't travel well and so they also tend to be a bit expensive. Oh, but it is worth it. There is very little in existence which says summer more than these strawberries.

We could have visited our local organics store, paid a lot more, and quickly acquired a very small little container of berries to munch on for the next couple of days. One better, there are many roadside stands advertising the onset of strawberry season with berries spread all over their tables ready for anyone to drive up and purchase. However, if there is one thing I have seen in us raising our own food, it is the importance exposing the Barracuda to the process of growing. By choosing to U-Pick your berries they are not only cheaper and you can get large volumes of berries, but you can see the farm and develop a relationship with those who grow your food. So much of the time it is forgotten that our food comes from the ground by people who work sun-up to sun-down. It is a lot of work for a reward often gone unappreciated. It is important to me that The Barracuda not miss these facts about his meals.

After packing a picnic lunch, and getting gasoline, we were on the road to the farm. The drive is gorgeous, only about 30 minutes, and a great way to build the anticipation of the event. The U-Pick farms in our area step up a tent right off of the parking lot where they sell boxes, have a weigh station, and park the large wagons used to hall everything to and from the fields. We had our 5 gallon bucket weighed by Ashley (a local farm girl) and she pointed the way to the fields. They rotate the picking every other day or so, allowing the berries to ripen and be picked evenly rather than totally annihilated. You are rarely in the same field twice in one week.

The Barracuda hopped into a wagon with our bucket and I began to pull us up the dirt road, past the herb garden, and through the peach orchard, to rows upon rows of strawberry plants. The romance of such a walk surpasses the mere 5 minutes it takes to get there. You would never know we were only thirty minutes from the city. Life here is just plain slower. The jobs require more time, harder work, and a level of patience which slows the pace of life. As a city dweller, the Barracuda wouldn't know such a world exists without our excursions. I would like him to realize other people fully live the type of life we are allowed to have small portions of with our lifestyle.

Jules and I have often wondered just how weird our undertaking in simplicity is. When the Barracuda and I got within view of the strawberry fields it was very obvious our family is not alone. The fields were full of people. Families, moms, kids of all ages, and even grandparents were out picking in groups with their own picnic lunches. These were all homeschooling families (school is still in for another week and it was noon on Friday) who were out picking to make jam, can, and generally have a desire to experience the slower pace of life much like our family has. It was a welcome relief for the Barracuda to see other kids doing the same things we were and much fun was to be had among all the children.
Picking your own berries requires that reminder of patience, of a slower pace, of harder work. It is a very simple task, but one to enjoy the rambling up and down strawberry rows taking in all the farm environment has to offer. This means you will get dirty hands, bitten by bugs, and if you are not careful a sun burn. It also means you will get to hear your child amazed at how berries can go from green to purple in the course of their lives. The Barracuda could see the pollination we had talked about for his homeschooling first hand in the progression of the berries. I was able to talk to other moms who let their children roam the fields as I did enjoying being outside on a great day. (The fields are open and flat so kids have to go quite a ways to be out of sight and ear shot.) We were all enjoying a Friday afternoon in the sun, with our families, taking part in the season. The Barracuda picked berries with me, as did most all the other children. There were people with colanders, Tupperware, cardboard boxes, and bowls all there to enjoy the season in our little chunk of the world. It was quite refreshing.

With our five gallon bucket filled half-way, our hands and knees very dirty, and our stomachs rumbling we trekked back to the weigh station to pay for our harvest . By having our bucket weighed first when empty that amount is recorded with masking tape on the side of the bucket and then subtracted from the end weight. This way we only pay for the berries and not the extra 2.25 pounds of bucket. We stood in line, paid, and then ventured off into the peach orchard for a picnic lunch of tree climbing and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The afternoon passed quickly and soon we were home to get cleaned up and can our wonderful bucket of bounty!

After washing the berries, the Barracuda capped and sliced them while I cleaned up the kitchen and prepared the cans. He is getting so good with both his axe handling and his knife skills that I hardly have to watch him anymore. This has helped significantly with getting things around the house done. He can be set to one chore (taking in the wash, preparing food to can, making kindling, cleaning the yard before mowing, his schoolwork) and I can take on an entirely different task within the same vicinity knowing I won't have to constantly observe and mediate. By the time he was done slicing, strawberries were all over his hands, his legs, his right eyebrow, his left cheek, and a bit mushed into his hair. Upon further inspection both elbows and his neck also has been christened with bright red juice. He was just plain sticky, dirty, and quite tasty according to Guadalupe who wouldn't stop licking him all over. So the strawberries went into a saucepan with 1/2 cup of sugar and the Barracuda went into the bathtub.

All in all 8 and 1/2 pounds of berries yielded 3 full quarts of berries. Previous 8 1/2 pound batches have given us 9 pints of berries and syrup. Both are processed at 6 pounds of pressure for eight minutes. With another couple of trips we will be well set up for the winter and be able to enjoy our three weeks of deliciousness all year round.

Jules will come out with us next time as the school year finally winds down and he is free (Only one more week! Not that I am counting). Over the summer we will be back to the farms for blueberries, blackberries, peaches, pears, and corn. We can all enjoy the whimsy of watching our food go from plants to our table and slowly creating family food traditions which will hopefully last all the way through much eye rolling and personal teenage embarrassment from the Barracuda. Little does he know how much the girls will enjoy strawberry picking dates, harvest festivals, and corn mazes!

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