Hunting and Gathering

This post was supposted to start with evidence upholding the adage that the things you work for -- in my case this weekend, berries picked in the hot sun and plums I climbed a tree to reach -- are more satisfying than something more easily gotten, say, from a grocery store. Then Oren and I got to debating the idea. Then the post became a he said, she said. But the discussion, abreviated, sounded trite. So here I am, left with telling you about the history of what this post almost became.Quality and provenance being equal, maybe you, like Oren, would choose to buy fruit rather than pick it, or eat out rather than cook, but when time permits, I still find it tremendously gratifying to harvest and make my own food. Maybe it's my feminine gatherer instincts. Maybe it's just the mark of my mother, long-time queen of hard labor to produce all manner of edibles.When I was growing up, my mother planted and tended to the huge gardens around the neighboring elementary school-turned office building. Beyond the gorgeous flowers blooming everywhere, she had planted a vegetable patch the size of many people in California's entire yards, filled with all sorts of peas, lettuces, tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, beets, radishes, and whatnot. Then there was the berry patch, with long, thick rows of raspberries, and the sour cherry and crabapple trees. (I got my start constructing crazy doodads to harvest crabapples -- it didn't work too well, so I ended up wearing a bike helmit while operating my picking tool. Tres chic.) Even with this abundance, every summer Saturday morning we'd walk along Boulder Creek to the Farmer's Market, where we'd buy bags and huge boxes full.All through summer, we would cook and freeze and juice and dry and can. By fall, the coldseller shelves were fully stocked with glass jars full of peaches, apricots, and cherries, pickled beets, spicy "dilly beans," raspberry jam, crabapple butter, and whatever else we had come across to store. Some of the jars were shared with friends, others we opened on cold winter days. I've never had better flaming cherries jubilee.

My mom is still busy in the gardens and kitchen today, though she has less to work with this year after a violent hail storm pummeled Boulder for a full 20 minutes a few weeks ago. I've always been an active cook too, but my gardening and food preserving have always been limited by gophers and deer and time and space. Finally this year though, my small garden is flourishing, not just with things to eat today, but with food and drink to carry us through to next season. My parents are so proud.The plum tree in my yard, which produced very little last summer, is making a royal mess this year, dropping juicy fruit bombs faster than I can clean them up. They are, unfortunately, way too wet for cobbler and are hard to even cut without making a mess, but they have made a very tasty granita and some plum butter. I'm not sure the hours of reducing yesterday were worth it for 6 half pint jars of tart sweet reddish-brown sauce, especially since the half jar I made in much less time earlier in the week with the excess from the granita actually turned out better. Still, I made fruit butter from my own tree! I even succeeded in sealing most of the jars! Some of the plums also went into the freezer, joined by the excess from Saturday's berry-picking trip. I see very tasty smoothies in my future... Finally, about those berries at the top of the page! (Were you wondering if I was going to come back to those?)

I have passed Webb Ranch on Alpine Road for years -- literally -- and never once stopped there. Silly me. I would have continued to miss out, too, if it weren't for a Stanford Club event there. Figuring it would be fun to see lots of people I either never met or couldn't remember, on Saturday morning we headed over to the farm, which is just off 280 at Alpine Road, for some quality group berry picking.There were a ton of people there, but we had no trouble finding plenty of the deliciously juicy, sweet blackberries that bear almost no resemplance to the tart giants available commercially. The raspberries were small and significantly harder to find. In a leisurely hour (it was too hot to stay longer), we picked 4 baskets of blackberries and 1 of raspberries, and together probably ate another basket's worth straight off the vines. Happily for everyone picking, all of Webb Ranch's farming is done sustainably and their produce is organic or transitional. At $3 to get in and $2 a pound for berries, you won't find a better deal outside your own back yard. If you're not in a gathering mood, you can also buy their delicious produce at the stand, though if you're like me, you may not get quite the same degree of self-satisfaction, unless you make them into something else... maybe jam, or pie... then you'll get satisfaction. ;)