Low hanging fruit – it's a metaphor native English speakers often use to denote an opportunity on which one can easily capitalize, a reward readily grasped without stretching. Yet I doubt most of us, particularly those in urban areas stop to consider the agrarian origins of such phrases, when hunter-gatherers quite literally foraged for food. For most of us, fruit is something purchased in a supermarket after having been transported from some far-flung agricultural processing area. For the adventurous, fruit might be something purchased at a farmer's market or a roadside stand.
As we consider the effects of rising energy costs on food production and distribution, it is worth remembering that this phenomenon is quite recent and (perhaps) transitory. Chilean grapes, Malaysian star fruit (carambola) and Chinese kumquats, we take these for granted, often failing to consider their true costs and global carbon footprint. Before we became a predominantly urban culture, almost all food was grown, processed and consumed locally, often by the growers themselves.
Getting My Hands Dirty
I was reflecting on all these trends as my wife Andrea and I picked wild blackberries along the small roads near our house in Redmond, Washington. Our house is surrounded by woods, and the small, one lane roads have created just enough clearing for the blackberry vines to flourish in the sunlight. (Yes, the sun does shine in greater Seattle, though not as often as we might like.) This is true, low hanging fruit, where one can forage and gorge oneself while standing still. Of course, we are not the only foragers. The local wildlife, including bears, shares the experience, and I have no desire to stand between a bear and berries.
In addition to instant gratification and stained hands, there is the culinary delight (nee deferred reward) that is blackberry cobbler. I had promised Andrea that I would help pick berries if she would make a cobbler. Knowing that Andrea is a truly wonderful cook, from my perspective, this was a "no lose" proposition. The tasting more than proved me prescient in that assessment.
Though not haute cuisine, blackberry cobbler captures the quintessential nature of simple, natural and tasty local ingredients. Parenthetically, how many times have you dined at a restaurant offering nouvelle cuisine, only to find that the length of the entrée's description rivaled the size of the entrée (that would be the main course for those not from the U.S. or English-speaking Canada) itself? Simplicity should not be pretentious. Leonardo Da Vinci may well have remarked, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication," but I was too busy with the spoon to wax overly philosophical.
Remembering My Father
Blackberry picking conjures memories of my childhood, when my father would come home from work with his lunch box filled with berries he had picked in the fields around where he worked. We were financially challenged (non-euphemistic translation – we were dirt poor), and living off the land was not a luxury, it was an absolute necessity. We grew what we could, and my father picked wild blackberries during the idle times between buying logs for a rural Arkansas sawmill that would fit all of one's backwoods stereotypes. (Yes, I worked there too before going to college, and it taught me some valuable lessons about hard work, the consequences of failure and the power of education. I must confess, though, that it was humbling to have tourists stop to take photographs.)
Happiness was seeing him walk in the back door with a bucket of blackberries. It meant we would be having berries in the future (frozen for use later in the winter – that deferred reward again) and blackberry cobbler as soon as my mother could wash and prepare the blackberries.
Picking berries this week with Andrea and anticipating the taste of cobbler took me back to my childhood, when life and family were defined by blackberry cobbler and a summer baseball game on the radio, sitting under a tree. Warm cobbler, with the crust floating atop the blackberries and juice, this is one of life's pure pleasures, feeding both body and soul.