The “Fruits” of My Labor, Raspberry Picking

It seems like another lifetime ago that a friend and I, armed with our “free labor”, also known as our children, would go raspberry picking. Now I don’t mean we picked a few pints, no, we picked for days. A lot of folks don’t realize that raspberries get picked twice in a season, once in July and then again in September. We would pick 40-50 pounds a year. We would make regular jam and Captain Morgan- Raspberry Jam. We would also make a Raspberry Honey Mustard Dip for pretzels and a Godiva Liquor and Raspberry Sundae Topping. We would also freeze the fresh berries for use throughout the year. At the holidays, we would give Raspberry Baskets filled with the jams and sauces as gifts for our family and friends.

Life got busy and we stopped picking raspberries, but I never forgot how amazing it was to pick those succulent berries. It wasn’t just about the tasty treats we made. It was also about the time we shared with each other and our children. The kids loved it. I think they ate more than they saved, but the young ones were great for gathering the berries on the lower vines. They learned a lot of important lessons picking berries. They learned to respect the bees and not pick the ones the bees were interested in. They learned the importance of team work. And they learned that you could make things from the gifts that nature provided.

We adults learned a lot too. We learned how therapeutic it was to pick berries. When you pick raspberries, you only think about one thing, picking the biggest and ripest berries you could find. All the troubles of the day melted away as we forged on with our mission. I can’t explain how gratifying it was to have those berries fall into your hand and to watch the bottom of the pail disappear. There was a sense of purpose and accomplishment as we weighed the berries and discovered just how productive we were. We enjoyed the accolades from our family and friends as we shared the fruits of our labor with them. They would ask with anticipation each year if we would be gifting them with our Raspberry Baskets again. One of my fondest memories was of my father. He had Pancreatic Cancer and was undergoing some aggressive treatments. At times, he didn’t have much of an appetite, but he loved our raspberry jam. When nothing else sounded appetizing, he would ask for jars of jam and he would eat it with a spoon, right out of the jar.

It’s been 18 years since I picked raspberries. I woke up this morning and asked my boyfriend if he had any plans for the day. He said no. I suggested we go raspberry picking. At first, he scoffed at the idea, but his love for raspberries got the best of him. We headed to Garden Works in Salem, NY. It was his first time picking raspberries and I wasn’t sure how long he would last. He rose to the task and together, we picked over six pounds of berries in just over an hour. Truth be told, he out picked me! We dropped some off to his parents who love raspberries and we made their day!. We are freezing some, eating some and I have plans for Raspberry Mojitos. We didn’t quite get enough to make jam, but, I am contemplating going back later this week to pick some more to make jam. Once I was out there picking, I remembered why I loved picking raspberries so much, that feel of them dropping into my hand, the way all my cares melted away and all the fond memories of the times we spent picking the berries and the reaction of family and friends to the fruits of my labor. There is a new generation I can show this to, my grandson. I’m hoping he will enjoy picking berries as much as his mom did. I think maybe I’ll do some Raspberry Baskets for Christmas.

Seriously? You’re Gluten Free?

Mary's Hand Gathered EggsSome of my friends have been gluten free for years. Some have an allergy to gluten, a few have Celiac’s Disease. Many of my friends, over the years have experimented with the concept of not eating gluten for a few days, weeks or months for various reasons. Some have actually stuck with it long term.

Since I am a big fan of bread and pasta, albeit the whole grain variety, I could not imagine going gluten free unless I absolutely had to! I, along with a good friend of mine, have raised over $200,000 for local charities by offering to cook dinner for 6 or 8 in people’s homes, as a live auction item. The minute someone said one of the group was gluten free, I asked them to please invite someone else. Frankly, I didn’t understand the whole gluten thing and it scared me. I’ll be honest, other than Celiac’s Disease, I thought the whole thing was a crock, but I wasn’t sure.

A little over a year and half ago, I started to have problems with my back and my hip. A lot of it was due to my age and the fact I spent so many years in a physically demanding career in the hospitality industry. As a result, I have a lot of inflammation in my back and hips. My pain is sometimes unbearable. I can not take NSAIDs like Advil, Motrin or Aleve, they upset my stomach. The only other pharmaceutical option to reduce inflammation is steroids. I tried a few rounds of that and I hated the side effects. I turned to the internet for alternative solutions and kept coming back to the two things, add turmeric to my diet and remove gluten from my diet. So, I went to my favorite natural foods store and bought turmeric. I added it to everything I could think of; dressings, marinades, sauces and dips. You name it, I added turmeric to it. It did help some. So then there was this gluten thing…….

I was still skeptical, but I did my research. Many of my close family members have auto immune issues and I have them, to a lessor degree. Inflammation is a big factor. My close family members also have a lot of bone and joint issues. Again, inflammation. And a few family members have depression issues. Inflammation was listed as a contributing factor. I couldn’t ignore it anymore, inflammation was a contributing factor to so much of my family medical history issues. Reluctantly, I decided I needed to give gluten free a try.

I researched gluten free diets. Everything I read said I needed to give it three weeks to really rid my body of gluten to see if it had an impact. I’ll admit, I took short cuts. I just eliminated it from my diet without really finding acceptable substitutes like finding gluten free free restaurants, GF products etc. After all, I was only doing it for three weeks. I started to feel better. Now, let’s be real, eliminating gluten did not undue years of wear an tear on my body, but it did significantly lessen the pain. At the end of the three weeks, I thought, maybe it was all in my head. So, for one week, I went back to eating gluten. If I had any doubt the impact of gluten on my pain, that week told me all I needed to know. I’ve been gluten free ever since.

I’m a foodie. I write about food for a magazine, I blog here about food, I love to cook everything from scratch, I love dining out and, don’t forget, I love breads and pasta. So, this is where things got real. I needed to find alternatives for cooking and baking at home. I bought a few books, experimented with some good gluten free items in the grocery stores and on line. The reality is, the toughest part is when I don’t eat at home. I eat out in restaurants, sometimes in my hometown, but often on the road. I would be attending my family reunion. I am often invited to parties or friend’s homes. How do I manage all that? I didn’t want to be “that girl” that announces to everyone that I’m gluten free and expect others to accommodate me.

Today, I started a Facebook page, Upstate NY Gluten Free. I am hoping others will share pictures and recipes and restaurants, so people who travel to the area (and I!) can benefit from others and they can benefit from me. If you go to a concert or festival, tell us where you found gluten free options for food and beverages. Don’t worry, not all of my posts to this blog will be about my gluten free journey, but expect that some of them will! I hope you will follow my journey.