Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hunger for skills among bounty

It's that time of year again. I'm so glad I went out to look at the patch the other day -- the berries were big and heavy and sweet. Denise and I always comment on how everything is new to us each year. On the upside, this means that we don't suffer from boredom or burnout too often. The downside means that we go picking the first time without gloves or long sleeves or hair ties. The thorns rake into our arms, snag our clothes, and catch Denise by her long long hair. We laugh and say the same things every single year. I hear Denise muttering, "Come to mama," and I say, "I need a harvest hovercraft. Why can't I have elastic, expando-retracto arms?" In a half hour, the two of us had picked 18 cups of berries.

I went back briefly today, in between swim lessons and afternoon kung fu. This time I came armed. A new picking stick (seen above) was five minutes' work with some tools. I want to attach a leather thong with a slider onto the end. If the notch went both ways, I could push brambles as well as draw fruiting bunches to me. I brought gloves, and discovered that using only one glove works best for me. One hand grabs and wields the stick; one hand gently receives the ripe berries and drops them to the flat.

What did we do with those 18 cups of berries from the first outing? One bunch went into a batch of jam, as so many will before the summer is over. This jam was special, though.

Denise and I have decided to share our skill sets with the people around us. In our area, there appears to be an explosion of workshops led by folks with expertise in one thing or another: gardening with kids, slaughtering home livestock, jam making, tomato growing, beekeeping, etc. Partly to garner some income, partly to try this out as a future employment option, we decided to float a jam making workshop and see what would happen.

We have a full paid house for the upcoming Saturday workshop.

Since we've never done this before, a run-through with a sympathetic audience seemed appropriate. Fortunately, we have friends who have either not made jam or were just interested in seeing us in action. Eight of them gathered and they made a batch of wild blackberry and one of mixed plum,with our support.

My kitchen was a happy place, with lots of willing workers and a house full of children too. They gave us helpful feedback about our presentation, good suggestions for handouts, pricing, and pacing, and seemed genuinely happy about the day's activity. Two jars of jam each probably sweetened the deal!

We talked about how people long for the old skills to not be lost, and how they want connection to their food and their forebears. Demystifying preserves seemed to be a big key -- years of conditioning have made many people afraid of doing something "wrong," and caused the belief that "experts" are different from "people with experience."

I'm not complaining -- addressing these feelings might make a nice side income for me. I am a little saddened, though, that what my grandmother and at least one aunt did as a matter of course is now akin to the black arts for many people. (Not many readers of this blog, I think, though.) Sharing the unbelievable bounty of the food around me and sharing my skills makes me feel useful in a deep way, so that's what I get out of it. I hope the ripple effect keeps on going.

I also hope the folks on Saturday feel like they're getting their money's worth! If you have a skill that you take for granted, and you live in an area with people who are interested in it, and you like having people around, this kind of skills sharing might be something to consider.


Helen said...

It's sad that our elders leave us, taking their little secrets with them. I'm glad that I know how to make my grandmother's mint sauce, my mother-in-law's raspberry jam, and my mother's many secret recipes. These, at least, will be passed down to a new generation. Happy jam making.

Susan said...

We came home and had yogurt and jam and peanut butter and jam sandwiches for dinner. I haven't popped the blackberry yet, though. Just the plum--yum. And the cherry almond--wow.

kitsapFG said...

What a great day and the berries look wonderful. I use the stick method to pick blackberries too - it helps to push back the bramble and allow access to the really heavily fruited canes. I was just thinking today that it is about time to make our annual trip to the blueberry fields for our big harvest.

Hurrah for you sponsoring the workshop and sharing your skills!

Jackie said...

What a great story. I started canning last year (plums and tomatoes) and I'm hooked. You are right on, when you talk about how people are "afraid" of trying things. And most of the time these fears are completely unfounded!

Thanks for the invite to your and Denise's gardens. I would love to stop by. Please let me know what time works for you. -Jackie

el said...


Ellie Mae's Cottage said...

The berries look so delicious. As a kid we used to pick wild blackberries. I haven't had them in a long time. -Jackie

patricia said...

It was a fun workshop. Now I have a new sound of summer to look forward to: the popping of sealed jam jar lids.

And look at your harvest lists in the sidebar! Seems like just yesterday it listed little more than a handful of raspberries.

Mr. H. said...

What a great idea, I would gladly take that class. I have just got to learn more about canning, and it will be one of this years missions to do so.

Stefaneener said...

Helen, you're lucky. My grandmother produced amazing things -- peach hand pies fried in butter -- but I was so young I didn't know to get in there and write things down. I do know that butter featured prominently!

Susan, I'm glad you had a good time. Your help was invaluable. I like the blackberry more than the plum, but I swing that way. The kids asked for bread and jam for dessert.

kitsapFG, thanks. You know what kind of passion it takes to brave those brambles. I have to pick on a ladder because the city trims the first 5 or 6' of bushes. I pick the overarching tops.

Jackie, I'll email you! I hope to can tomatoes this year -- enough to last all winter maybe. But I'm going to have to buy them, I'm afraid.

And Jackie, I call these wild, but they're growing in the middle of the city. Do you think there might be some near you?

Tricia, I have no doubt but that when you do start, it's going to be a thing of incredible beauty.

Mr. H., I'd teach you -- but I'll tell you my secret -- just read about it and leap in. It's so very very easy, while it is fun to have a coach, it's not necessary. And you do so much that's worth canning!

Off to the bramble patch!

Kristin said...

I'm so sorry I missed your jam class. I've been too focused on my own honey harvest lately and haven't been social at all.

Did you realize that your garden has created community, both from its yield and from your posts about it; and your relationship with your sister is one-of-a-kind.

Michelle said...

18 cups of (foraged - neato) berries - how wonderful. And a jam making class - more wonderful! I used to make loads of jam back in the days when I had fruit trees.

I've seen patches of wild berries around here but they always seem to be intermingled with poison oak so I'm not tempted.

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