Writing Daily Prompt – Write about blueberries.
I climbed over the boulder and grabbed a mossy crevice to hang on as best I could with a plastic pail hitched over my arm. My flimsy flip-flops were no match for damp forest bed. Digging my bare toes in to the lichen and moss, I looked for some leverage. Grabbing a vine, I heaved myself up to stand in the beginning of the berry patch. The wild blueberries are clumped in bunches on low-bush shrubs in front of us. They thrive in the glacial soil and cooler climates, making them the perfect native berry in Canada and the New England States in the US.
There are six of us, giggling and vying for the bushes heaviest with ripe fruit. I plopped myself down in the center of the patch and declared the perimeter as mine. Crouching on my knees, I picked blueberries by the handfuls and plopped them into my pail. We called back and forth, eager to share our biggest, juiciest finds, which so often ended up in our mouths instead of our buckets.
“Look at this one! It’s as big as an eyeball!” Tommy cried as he held up a whopper of a berry. Wild berries tended to be smaller, but every once in a while, you’d be rewarded with one the size of a marble.
Ben grinned from ear to ear to show us his purple teeth and tongue. Stains of blue covered most of his lip and cheeks. He had employed a different strategy of not claiming a territory, but ran from large patch to large patch while criss-crossing ours.
“Get off! This is my patch!” I screamed and drew an arc with my arms to form my imaginary borders, exposing my only child syndrome.
Anne moved aside to share a laden bush with me.
We yelled at him to stay away, but the truth was there were enough berries for all of us. It was perfect timing for picking, the first height of the season while the birds and bears still hadn’t emptied the little inlet in the forest. Our buckets filled, we hopped off the ledge to find the mountain road back home. There would be more blueberry picking tomorrow.
Our Mothers’ had promised to make us Blueberry Jam. We found them sitting idle at Ben’s house enjoying tea and coffee. His wooden screen door squeaked open and banged shut as every kid entered. Before long, the kitchen was a beehive of activity as parents and kids prepped the fruit.
Boxes of canning jars had been washed and sterilized beforehand.
Aunt Anita, Ben’s Mom, dumped all of our pickings into a large cauldron filled with water to wash and pick over the berries. No stems, no unripened green berries, no stowaway June bugs. The pot was so large that we used a kiddie shovel to stir.
The Blueberry crew sorted cupfuls of berries into pots with cupfuls of sugar, lemon juice and pectin to help it set. I like my blueberry jam on the softer, runnier side, so my Mom will whisk it off a few seconds earlier.
Before long, the heated berries rolled to a boil, split their skins, and deepened their hue to a richly majestic purple. We took turns to stir them around to mix the froth back in with the sugar. Our Moms took the task of ladling hot jam into jars while we wiped the rims before screwing the metal disk and twist top lids in place.
I loved the sound. If I close my eyes, I can still hear a hundred jars of fresh, homemade blueberry jam popping as they sealed. Once the hot jam cooled, it sucked the air in to vacuum pack the jar.
By lunchtime we were decorating the jars with homemade labels and ribbons.
As was the tradition, whichever jar didn’t properly seal was ours to start for lunch. We smeared fresh churned butter on bread baked that morning, then piled as much blueberry jam atop as we could. Shoo’d outside, we kids sat on the stairs to eat our our berried treasure.
I can’t open a jar of good Blueberry Jam and not be transported right back to those deliciously sweet summer days.
Blueberries have always reminded me of our contained universe. If you peel it – ever so carefully – it’s like peeling back the indigo night sky just before the moon appears. The fruit is a symphony of forest flavours in your mouth; juicy from the creek and the rains, earthy from the dirt they grow in, not to terribly sweet with a touch of tartness if they are young. Mmmmmmm.
It’s not just the sweets but the memories. Many of the Moms – including mine – are gone now. The cousins and friends who are like cousins are spread out across the world. This summer I might send each of them a jar of homemade Blueberry Jam.
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