Raspberry picking on Martha’s Vineyard

Grown with great care within five miles of home and fresh off the vine, a pint of raspberries becomes something sublime. — Photo by Lila Griswold

“Raspberries” is hand painted in red on the sign in front of Mermaid Farm, but you’ll only see it if you are driving down-Island on Middle Road. Traveling up-Island, I missed the good news, but fortunately I pulled into Mermaid Farm anyway.

I stop at Mermaid Farm whenever I pass by. The farm stand is one of the best on the Island and it’s a pleasure to make a selection of Caitlin Jones’s heirloom tomatoes, and then walk down to the dairy barn and buy the raw milk and thick, rich yogurt made by her husband, Alan Healy.

Pulling in and parking by the farm stand, I saw I was smack in front of a huge raspberry patch. Raspberries are my favorite fruit, and I love to pick them. How had I missed this before? There were no picked berries for sale, but a sign with clear instructions was posted next to the price list.

“Pick your own Raspberries

You need to find and speak to me first

$4 a pint

Do not hurt/bother the spiders or bees

No walking perpendicular to the rows.”

This sounded just right. I liked being warned not to look out for the bees and spiders harming me but my possible impact on their well-being. I walked to the house to ask Caitlin for permission, hoping she was home and I would pass muster. Before I got to the door she opened a window. “Yes?”

“Could my daughter and I pick raspberries?”

“Go for it!”

We entered the patch carefully, watching more for spiders and bees than for brambles. Could we resist the temptation to taste? No. The berries tasted like an Indian summer day — sweet and tart at the same time. Embraced by the hum of bees, we began to pick.

Each stalk we examined was laden with berries in all stages of ripeness. We moved — not perpendicularly — down the rows for the pleasure of it, not because we needed to. It took no time to fill our pint containers, but I lingered — to savor the abundance of all that lovely fruit and to admire the enormous spiders and their intricate webs.

Picking raspberries was so much fun I came back later that afternoon with a friend. This time Alan’s father, Kent Healy, was picking too. “You know you have to pick them every day,” he reminded us. Raspberries are delicate. It’s one of the things I like about them. They need to be eaten right away or they spoil. This meant I would need to come back the next day — perfect!

A hoarder, I had been looking at cookbooks and thinking I needed to make jam or put away some raspberry vinegar for Christmas presents. I told this to Kent as we picked. His response was just what I needed and wanted to hear, “Aw, just eat them. They’re never better than fresh.”

How true. I came home and poured most of the pint I picked into a huge bowl and buried it in Alan’s yogurt and drizzled honey on top. I sat outside in a patch of afternoon sun with the Joy of Cooking. I turned from the page on how to freeze raspberries to the page on making cheesecake. How good would a lemon cheesecake topped with fresh raspberries be? Very good.

Today I’ll go back to Mermaid Farm and pick again. There is a metaphor about picking just the right berry I’m trying to wrap my mind around and it may take quite a few pints before I get a handle on it. Why is it that unripe berries resist a gentle tug so you leave them behind while the overripe ones fall into your hand too easily, leaving a stain? Raspberries that are just right require only a tiny touch of pressure and they sit between your fingers intact and perfect. They give themselves to you.

The message, I believe, is something about being patient and letting things happen in their own time. Somewhere in there is something about enjoying things at their peak, but I will need to go back and pick and pick again before I really get it. Only one thing is certain: finding out will be a pleasure.