Most of us are familiar with the seasons as they are presented in an elementary classroom: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Fewer of us are as familiar with the micro-seasons that pass within and …
Most of us are familiar with the seasons as they are presented in an elementary classroom: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Fewer of us are as familiar with the micro-seasons that pass within and between each of these, however. I’m reminded of these seasons lately as the air has suddenly decided to blow the first cool tendrils of fall into our northeastern corner of the world.
Just last week, my wife and I were picking blueberries, which were then at the tail of their season, and freezing them while they could be had. This week, however, elderberries have begun to ripen after months of summer. A week or two from now, they may not be there anymore, whether because of birds or the winds and rain anticipated from the hurricanes and other storms coming up from the south. It may even be just because they will be finished with their season. Whatever the cause, it’s certainly true that nothing lasts forever. Just as the bigger weather like sunshine and 80-degree heat or snowflakes and sleet take turns, so, too, do the crops out here. Strawberries are replaced by raspberries, which are replaced by blueberries and now elderberries. Sometimes those raspberries make an encore appearance that is appreciated by not only my wife but also our chickens. Those feathery little thieves tend to make our raspberry season very short. On the plus side, they cannot reach our elderberries since they are much higher off the ground. My bet is they wouldn’t eat them anyway since they are considered poisonous before being cooked. However, birds eat a lot of things humans can’t, so I may be making a false assumption there. Regardless, our elderberries were high and dry from the little scavengers and dark and ripe for the picking.
Armed with a couple of plastic buckets, my wife and I divided around the largest bush and sought out the darker clumps of berries. Red or especially green ones weren’t ready yet. Some of the darkened berries even were lighter than others and so were left behind. Mostly though, my method of picking wasn’t entirely that discerning. Cupping the clump from the back, I rubbed the fronds against one another to knock off the most ripened berries. Berries that were less so, I assumed would simply hold on tighter and not fall off into my bucket. One-hundred percent foolproof? Not exactly, but it worked pretty well overall. Since you can’t eat raw elderberries, from my understanding, I’ve not had a lot of experience with picking them. Blueberries are much more gratifying in the moment because they offer a treat right from the moment you pick them. My wife had decided to try her hand at syrup and jam, though, and since I love pancakes, to assist in the picking was the least I could do. My father, having found out we were picking elderberries, instantly started requesting we attempt elderberry wine. Without any other elderberry experience, we opted to refrain from fermentation. But the thing about seasons is, they always come back around. The way out here, nothing lasts forever, but we try to make the most out of every season that comes our way.
With a bucketful of berries in the fridge, this season brings the opportunity for more canned goods for our homestead to stock up on. More berries continue to ripen and add to our reserve, but in just a few short weeks they will be replaced by the next homestead staple. That’s the way out here, living off what the land provides from day to day, preserving our food and noting the change in the season to get a sneak peek of what’s next on the menu.