Berry Picking

by Linda C Butler

I have always enjoyed berry picking and sometimes it seems that the world is divided into those people who like to pick berries and those who can’t stand to do so.

When I was a kid Dad used to take us to pick low bush blueberries.  Mom and I would find a comfortable place and commence to fill our pails.  Dad liked to wander, and he preferred to scout around and look for the best bushes, consequently he never picked as many berries as Mom and I did.  Vicki, a long-time friend sometimes joined us, and she said she always stayed close to Dad because she liked to wander around the bush as well and wasn’t too keen on picking.

I recently joined Mom for coffee with the seniors where she lives and the subject turned to berry picking.  Shirley, who lived in Terrace years ago, remembers that once a year, the men trekked up the mountain to pick huckleberries.  They carried empty wooden boxes on their backs that had held canned milk.  (She said that was how milk was packed before cardboard boxes.) The men would arrive at the huckleberry patch after a long climb and they lit a bonfire in the evening.  At night the women would see the bonfire from the valley below and know that the men had safely reached the berry patch.  The next day the men picked huckleberries until their boxes were full and then nailed them shut. When the picking was finished the men came down the mountain with the crates strapped to their backs.  The women were ready with their canning jars and supplies to make preserves.  Pastry dough was rolled out for pies and huckleberry filling added.  This was a community annual event and soon everyone was smiling from the delicious taste of huckleberries.

Shirley also told us that when she went blackberry picking she carried a wire coat hanger so she could hook branches that were in her way and push them to one side.  Today I carry garden nippers to cut wayward branches, but her idea is a good one. I have sometimes saved the top portion of socks to put over my wrist when blackberry picking to protect myself from brambles.

One lady remembered hanging a jelly bag to drip and the string broke and the bag fell into the bowl of juice, splattering juice all over the kitchen. She laughed over the remembered mess in her long-ago kitchen.

One lady talked about the great taste of the wild blueberries.  She said that the plants were so small they had to crawl on the ground in order to pick them.

Some of the folks had grown up on the prairies and one man talked about picking pin cherries and chokecherries.   Others remembered the wild saskatoons.  The wild berry crops had been an important food source for this older generation.

This last summer I picked wild raspberries that grew on a timber clearcut.  The spruce trees had been harvested for pulp and paper and the wild raspberries grew in the clearing.  There was a good crop and there were acres of berries, but the ground was rough and the berries were only about a third of the size of the commercial fruit, plus there were a lot of seeds.  We worked hard for the berries we picked and it made me appreciate the effort of gathering wild fruits.

Euell Gibbons (1911-1975), the wild food gatherer, said that wild foods make economic sense because you pick where you did not plant and tend the crop.


About Linda C Butler

I write pioneer stories from the Herb Lake Ghost Town in Manitoba. Please do not re-blog this material or re-publish without my permission.
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