A Big Ol’ Raspberry

I ate a raspberry yesterday. Big deal, you might respond. Anybody can do that. And it’s true. For a price, anybody can buy and eat raspberries. But not the one I had. First of all, I’m not a big fan of raspberries au natural. In jam or cheesecake, yes. After all, cheesecake makes everything taste better. But this raspberry was satisfying in a way that transcended taste. The bush that produced this berry has already produced two pints of raspberries this summer and is due to give me two to three more before the Fall Equinox arrives.

As you have probably guessed, one thing that made this berry special is that I grew it myself. But that’s only a small part of the story. Raspberries are unique, different from other berries. Exhibit A is that they cannot be picked before they are ripe. The white conical shaped part of the plant that they are attached to simply refuses to release the berry until it is ready. All other berries, like strawberries and blueberries which are my personal favorites, can be picked green. I know because I have done it. One of my earliest memories is being four years old and picking wild blackberries, raspberries and strawberries with my Me′me′ and Pe′pe′ in the fields next to their truck farm in Essex Junction, Vermont. It took some trial and error for me to learn ripe from non-ripe strawberries and blackberries. But raspberries were easy to figure out. Wrestling with a stubborn green raspberry meant getting poked by the stickers on the bush. Instant positive or negative reinforcement equals fast learning.

I got so good at it that, at age twelve, while living in Ontario, Canada, I could pick a pail of berries in an hour. We froze the blueberries and ate them all winter. But the strawberries and raspberries got consumed right away. These were good times, very rare in my highly dysfunctional family. Even more so as I began to appreciate the connection to my hunter/ gatherer ancestors. It’s like staring into the coals of a campfire. You can feel your roots right down to your DNA. It is a glimpse at a type of immortality.

The reason that this particular raspberry was so satisfying is because of its origin. I didn’t start out to grow a raspberry bush. It came as a bonus freebie with some Egyptian Walking Onions. Yes that’s a thing and yes they walk… well, sort of. The onions originally belonged to my wife’s grandmother. In fact that’s what we called them: Grandma’s onions. I won’t go into their botanical or culinary quirks here, suffice it to say they were an integral part of my gardens for many years. Until, we moved out of our house and I was gardenless.

After two years of no garden, we moved into a place that allowed me to have a garden, albeit a small one… 45 sq. ft. to be exact. Fortunately, I gave away onion sets every fall and was able to get a former coworker to return the favor. Only the onions he dug up had a raspberry shoot mixed in. He apologized, not that I cared. And I went home and planted the whole clump of dirt. As I expected, the onions came back quickly and in force. The raspberry bush, not so much. For three years, in two different garden plots, it managed just seven leaves and some of those were damaged in a freak hailstorm.

Then, one spring, I moved it into the corner of the garden, in the shade. It loved the limited light and wet clay soil so much that within a month, it grew five feet. The next year, it spread out, sending out so many shoots that it has taken over more than a quarter of my limited garden space. This year it began producing a lot of raspberries. And that has created a quandary for me. What do I do with this raspberry bush? I can’t continue to let it take over my garden. But just digging it up and killing it off (assuming I can actually kill it off) is something I can’t bring myself to do. I see too much of myself in this silly plant.

I grew up in a military family which meant constant moving. Like the bush, I never had a chance to really set down roots and thrive. Then came my own military career and college which meant more uprooting. But like the bush, once I found myself in the right conditions, I grew a life that has made me very happy and fulfilled. It’s like the gospel parable about wheat seeds landing in different environmental conditions. Call me superstitious but I think the similarities are too close to not take seriously.

The obvious solution is to transplant the bush to another spot. But as I already said, I have limited space to work with. So I will have to put up with losing garden space until I figure something out. In the meantime, if you know anybody who wants a big ol’ raspberry, just let me know. I’ll be happy to give you one.