Recently I discovered an essay written in 1907 entitled “Wild Grapes for Jelly.” The author writes of the summertime treasure that wild fruit can be to the select few who are willing to claim it. She says this about wild fruits, specifically grapes:

They yield their riches to those who know them best and who most desire them. If you have found them, then it is you only for whom they have ripened, a free gift of nature’s bounty.

It sounds romantic–a warm summer afternoon trot to the countryside, filling a basket with wild fruits, which then becomes a shelf of jam to enjoy all winter.

Sometimes it’s not all homemade lemonade and Little House of the Prairie, though. Consider my recent experience. While on a walk last week I discovered an enormous patch of just-ripening black raspberries. I don’t get many opportunities to play in the woods these days so an afternoon of foraging for berries sounded terrific. I exchanged my sandals for tennis shoes and dabbed a touch of vanilla extract on my bare arms and legs (which up to this point had worked nearly flawlessly as a bug repellent) and set out.

True to form, I was so intent on collecting berries that I crashed around the patch, heedless of thorns and branches. The mosquitoes were more bothersome than usual but I reached my goal to fill my little pail.  It was only on the way home I noticed my agony. Scratches and little streaks of blood all over my legs, with itchy welts springing up everywhere. I was able to count 27 distinct mosquito bites (dang vanilla) and something unknown had stung me on the back of the knee. It kept swelling up bigger and bigger and my homemade salve didn’t help at all. So I spent the evening hobbling around with a plantain poultice tied around my knee. No one dared to say it, but I’m sure I looked as much of a wreck as I felt.

Modernism scarcely approves of all this labor. We cannot suppress a doubt as to the economy of expending so much time and care to catch and imprison a few dozen jars of sunshine.

From a strictly economic angle, maybe it wasn’t the best use of my time. But what else would I have done on a Sunday afternoon? Probably something of very little value, like watching TV, or browsing Pinterest, or alphabetizing my cookbooks…(definitely not).  But I couldn’t resist fresh berries, free for the picking.

In theory, we acknowledge the wastefulness of our effort. But in practice, a great many of us go on preserving, year after year. In fact, we really love the close boundaries of home, and prefer the work that is direct and personal to a bigger work…

I can’t agree that it’s always “wastefulness” but in some situations maybe it’s not a good use of time. In spite of the questionable economics, I consider it a successful afternoon. So far, I possess over 2 pounds of black raspberries, a fruit which can’t be bought at my local grocery stores. I’ll use some in smoothies and some in pancake batter, but most of them will be made into black raspberry syrup, which I’ll can for later use. And it will taste mighty fine this winter. By then, I’ll have forgotten how much I sweated picking them during a ridiculous heat wave and my scratches will have healed and my legs and arms will no longer itch.

Breakfast–yogurt, topped with black raspberry syrup and granola

After all, we but take our place in the long line of women who, since cooking was invented, have gathered the fruits of the earth and stored them up for use and comfort. Every year with the ripening of the fruit has this ritual been accomplished, through ages of unwritten history.

And I’ve joined that long line of women and added one more year to that long history.

3 thoughts on “Harvesting Wild Grapes, 1907

  1. I have also been told not to ‘waste my time’ picking wild fruit, usually by someone who is busy sitting around and doing something truly worthwhile (sitting around smoking, gossiping, etc). I would just smile, pick up my bucket and ‘snake stick’. and head for the bushes while wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt. I spent hours each summer morning, walking, reaching, bending, stretching, as I picked bucket after bucket of plump berries, enjoying a handful now and then (there is something about wild blackberries warmed from the sun, with just a hint of dew, that makes them more delicious than any store bought produce). I had a great physical workout, and my freezer was filled with natural foods to help me recall the warm days of summer once the snow came.

    1. Exactly! I’ve heard people criticize gardening as not worth the trouble, then spend money on a gym membership (and rarely use it).

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