I will never be able to see blueberries and not think of summer. I can still see my grandmother wearing an old bucket hat and bug-eyed sunglasses, sitting in the passenger seat of my mother’s minivan as we drove to one of the “Upick” blueberry orchards that dotted Sussex County.
We’d wander up and down the rows of bushes and the two matriarchs of my life would explain to me which ones were good and which ones to leave behind. Too hard and they weren’t quite ripe. Too soft and it was too late. We’d fill gallon-sized ice cream buckets. The more berries we picked, the softer the thud when they landed in the bucket. Starting out with a dull clunk as they collided with the bottom of the bucket, and progressing to a quiet bop as they struck the berries beneath them. The more berries we picked, the heavier the bucket became until my five-year-old arms could no longer tolerate it and my mother would lighten my load and let me start again.
After a few hours in the hot sun, coated with a healthy layer of sweat and melted sunscreen, we would lug our buckets to the weigh station and pay for the berries by the pound. When we arrived home, we would freeze most of the berries and use them gradually over the next few weeks and months, mostly in Saturday morning pancakes.
Some of the berries would stay out, so that my grandmother could use them to make her blueberry cobbler. My mom always describes my grandmother as “not a cook, but a baker,” and judging by my memories of her pies and cobblers, and by the recipes of hers that we still follow every year, I find truth in that statement.
We don’t pick blueberries every summer, like we used to. But, I will never be able to assign them to any other season. Regardless of whether I’m the one actually picking them, the blueberries can’t be avoided during those three months.
At the restaurant where I work, blueberry mojitos will inevitably appear on our cocktail menu. Several summers ago, we also had a blueberry buckle on our dessert menu. Buckles have some culinary definition that sets them apart from cobblers, crumbles, and crisps, and I can never remember the finer distinguishing features—but, just trust me when I say it’s delicious. While it’s been off the menu for several years at this point, the chef responsible for its creation made one for the staff last summer, and we were all reminded of why blueberries taste like summer.
So, as the semester comes crashing to the end in its usual, chaotic way, I am certainly looking forward to the summer and the post-school recovery it brings. It seems surreal, but in just a few weeks, I’ll be trading in Goucher colors for the blue of the Atlantic ocean and golden sunsets over the bay—and, yes, blueberries as well.