BY JUDITH WALCUTT
JULY 5, 2017
Summer is upon us. Fruit is ripening everywhere —cherries on the tree, strawberries in the field, raspberries in the patch, and blueberries on the bush—they are all coming to fruition. It is time to get out and get some of the bounty we have so readily available, right here, right now, where we live.
Maggie’s U-Pick at Featherstone Farm, which is located on Bailey Road in Clinton, has a changing assortment of offerings throughout the summer, all U-pick (contact Maggie at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to her mailing list). Bell’s Farm in Coupeville has been providing Whidbey with strawberries since 1946. They have a lot of other produce as well. The U-pick price for the berries is a great deal at $1.60 per pound.
We have at least two on-island, certified organic blueberry farms. Mutiny Bay Blues in Freeland offers a variety of blueberry types, all of them full of flavor, a profound flavor, which is practically the Platonic ideal of blueberryness. Hunter’s Moon Farm, north of Oak Harbor, also organic, provides a U-pick option and has some raw honey available from the bees that pollinate their fields.
These are just a few of the local farms and farmers. There are more, and you can find them by taking adventuresome alternate routes up and down the island. This is the time of year to explore the place you love with new eyes—explore it like a tourist. Don’t stint yourself on golden moments on the beach and breathtaking views of mountains across the water. Why leave home, when you can be here?
If you can’t get to the farms, you can still get to the farmers markets and sample some of everyone’s produce. It is a good idea to patronize local agricultural endeavors for the sheer sense it makes in terms of supporting our local food sources and preserving access to truly “farm fresh” food that is naturally non-GMO, organic, and grown with love by friends and neighbors. Think how much more nutritious that is!
And it’s more fun. I have wonderful memories of my kids and me going out to fields up and down the island, picking our lot of berries, as we ate our fill along the way. Those boys are grown and gone for now, but I know wherever they are, whenever they eat strawberries, they will remember those summer days past, the slate-blue sky, the red-jewel berries buried beneath the dusty green plants, the taste of the summer sun on their tongues.
No matter how busy you are this summer, coming and going, don’t forget to stop and taste the fruit and make new, happy memories with your children, your friends, your parents, your beloveds.
Go to the fields—pick the food together, cook the food together, eat the food together. Stay up late and watch the moonrise and bright stars appear on the horizon together. Put the phone down. Turn off the computer, the TV, the tablet. Look up; look around; look where you are. Please: Smell the lavender; taste the fruit.
As for me, I have my eyes on my usual favorite trees for gleaning fruit, the unwanted and unnoticed golden plums of Honeymoon Bay, which I have been tracking since their first blossoms in the spring, to their evolution into hard green fruit, to the long slow ripening I observe on a daily basis as I take my usual walks up and down the road, as I have done for so many years now.
I look forward to capturing those golden plums again this summer, when they are ready for picking. I have a commitment to those trees to show up and be there for their completion. Since I am the only one who does, I feel a certain sense of obligation. In a sense, I have trained these plum trees to expect me. I have trained them to keep giving fruit. I am their witness. I have tamed their wildness, and it is my responsibility to gather their gifts and not waste them.
There is a metaphor in this somewhere, and I think it has to do with arriving at an appreciation for the process of maturation. You cannot hurry the process of fruit ripening on a tree. We must be patient—as with all acts of creation—the plum, the apple, the peach, the pear—each has its perfect moment of fulfilled potential.
I’ve been struggling with this trope in my life, as it has manifested in the book that will not end, the fruit that would not ripen. Begun nearly twenty-two years ago, and returned to over the past three years in deep rewrite, the book I am finishing now, I find, is quite a different one than that which I began. Of course, I am a different person than I was when I began it and that has had its environmental impact on the final outcome.
I think I am almost there now, though, and I am hoping to make some good jam out of the fruit of my labors soon. Some things in life are like that—they take a really long time to come into their own, to reach “fruition.”
Fortunately, real jam made with real berries doesn’t take that long. You can get the berries today and have jam within twenty-four hours. Here’s my recipe:
- 4+ cups of strawberries washed and cut into pieces (if starting with raw fruit, add ½ cup more to compensate for cooking down)
- 2 cups sugar mixed into a 3-quart-sized pot with the berries
- A good-sized strip (2 x 1/2 inches) of lemon peel cut into a few pieces and added to the berries
- A squeeze of lemon juice, which helps the preservation and setting up of the jam
Combine ingredients in the pot and ignore for a while, as the sugar pulls the juice from the berries. Put on a back burner at low, with the lid on. Keep the temp at low throughout the process and you will have a better jam and avoid burning the bottom of the pot by inattention. Continue to stir intermittently.
When the fruit begins to bubble, remove the lid and keep stirring, intermittently, as the fruit cooks down. Don’t forget to encourage the fruit, bring out the best in it, by loving it as you stir.
When the lemon peel has reached transparency, the fruit is stiffer in the stirring, and you have reached 220 degrees Fahrenheit at least once during the process, you probably have jam. If you find you’re scraping the sides of the pot often to remove the build-up, you probably have jam. When it cools, you will know for sure.
Yield: three to four, 8-ounce jars or six to eight 4-ounce jars.
Mix with yogurt and enjoy!
(P.S. Preserving the jam for later use is easier than you think. Buy canning jars at the grocery store and follow the clear instructions that are included.)
You’ll find a list of farmers markets, farm stands, and CSAs on Slow Food Whidbey Island’s website. Goosefoot’s updated and printable Roadside Farm Stand, Farm Store, and Farmers Market Directory is here.
Judith Walcutt is a writer and media producer who has enjoyed the fruits of Whidbey for many years with her husband, writer/performer David Ossman. Since their boys left home, Judith and David have been birthing books and batches of jam side-by-side, with no retirement date in sight. “Memoirs of a Modern She-Noodle” or “Dining Out with the Hungry Ghosts,” a comedic/erotic picaresque novel will be coming out soon, from Neopoeisis Press.
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