We live in a culture of excess. This is no secret. And I come from a segment of the population that contributes to this societal ill. I’ll be the first to admit I’m quick to go to excess on products I like. I found a brand of goat’s milk soap (Zum) that I liked so much I ordered a dozen bars @ $5.00 each. This summer, when I found a pair of white slacks that fit well and were a good value ($7) I bought three pairs. That’s excess. Too much of even a very good thing decreases its value. It’s simple supply v. demand (you can trust me on this, I was an economics major 32 years ago).
The formula applies to food as well. I grew up believing that blueberries, specifically wild blueberries, were more akin to gold than a fruit of the vine. For as long as I can remember, my family’s measure of the success of a summer corresponded, at least in part, to the wild blueberry harvest around the lake where we spend our summers. Speculation starts early in the season, around Memorial Day, when the blossoms are just forming. Inevitably someone will comment, “Looks like it might be a good blueberry crop this year…” The actual berries start to form in mid-June, as hard, little green beads. That’s when our hopes start to build: “Yes…yes! It certainly looks like it will be a good season!” But the verdict is still out, as the actual size and quality of the harvest depends on sunny days and just the right amount of rainfall. Some years, the harvest is disappointing. Berries form, but do not ripen or they ripen, but are sparse or small. Other years, we have an amazing crop, when the blueberries come home by the gallon.
By late July, the fruit starts to ripen and we head out early in the morning to our favorite picking spots. In a good season we pick for hours. Sometimes, we pick in groups of 2 or 3, idly chatting the morning away while comparing the level of blueberries in our respective buckets. Sometimes, we go our separate ways and pick in silence, lost in our own thoughts. I like to immerse myself in the songs and scoldings of the birds nearby (who also love to chow down on blueberries).
You can measure the success of the blueberry season by the end products we produce. A blueberry coffeecake only takes one cup of berries. In sparse years, we have a lot of coffeecakes. In a fair to middlin’ year, we relish several sumptuous blueberry pies, which take four cups of the precious commodity for each pie. But when it’s a really, really good season, in addition to cakes and pies, there’s also a batch (or TWO) of blueberry jam. Each batch takes three quarts of berries…but then we get to enjoy the fruits of the harvest all year long. No matter how exorbitant the crop, abundance in blueberries never seems terribly excessive (in the societal ill sort of way).
This summer was different. In May, as a means of treating chronic Lymes disease, my doctor put me on a very restrictive diet, eliminating inflammatory foods: sugar (including fruit), gluten, processed foods, and starches. I now get most of my calories from veggies, meat and good fats like avocado, coconut, and nuts. I’m doing well on the diet and it seems to be helping with the Lymes. I’m okay with going without processed sugars, starches, breads, etc., but I dearly miss fruit. I am limited to one small serving, 3 or 4 times a week.
I have heard that when bears prepare for their winter hibernation, they pack on pounds by gorging on blueberries. This never made much sense to me. Blueberries are touted as a super-food, high in nutrients and anti-oxidants and low in calories and glycemic load. The conventional wisdom has been that you can eat blueberries all day and benefit from their great nutrition without gaining weight. So why do blueberries pack on weight for bears? Who knows? But apparently my metabolism is more like that of a bear than a normal 54 year old woman.
This summer, rather that eating blueberries by the handful, I ate my puny allotment berry by precious berry. Blueberry coffeecake was out. Blueberry pie…forbidden. I wish I made a batch of sugar free jam to last me through my winter hibernation, a tablespoon at a time, but I didn’t.
My blueberry prohibition has somehow made blueberries all the more precious. It’s been a good lesson on excess. It may seem trivial and silly, but denying myself blueberries has been a good start in recognizing other excesses in my life (like soap and white slacks). I hope it leads to living in a simpler, more sustainable way. More berries for the birds and bears, I guess.