Raspberries have always been one of my favorite fruits, and when I was a young married woman I got terribly spoiled. My father-in-law, Grandpa Ernie, had been a dairy farmer, and when he retired he had planted about a few raspberry plants along the fence at the edge of the old cow yard. Those raspberries spread like wildfire in the rich soil over the years and eventually there was nearly an acre of ground filled with the canes. I don't know what variety they were, but they fruited once early in the summer, took a few weeks off, then they came back with a vengeance and bore heavily until frost killed them off for the winter.
Grandpa Ernie's five children tried to talk him into opening a U-pick patch, saying it would supplement his Social Security nicely each summer, but he didn't want other people wandering through the patch and damaging the canes. Instead, he went out each and every day and wandered through the maze of paths that criss-crossed the raspberry patch, picking the plump juicy berries. These were given out to friends and the local nursing homes. One day each raspberry season he would call a child and say "Do you want raspberries? Come tomorrow to pick if you do, and bring your own containers." So early the next morning you loaded up the kids, grabbed the bug spray and a long sleeve shirt and headed to the farm with a stop at the grocery store to pick up cardboard flats and shallow boxes.
It was almost always in August when the call would come for our one day of raspberry picking, and in southeast South Dakota that means HOT and humid. It was also prime mosquito season, and those little blood suckers LOVED the raspberry patch filled with helpless, captive victims. These raspberries growing in the fertile soil that had been formed by the decayed manure of several decades in the old cow yard towered well over your head, so any breeze there might have been was effectively blocked by the dense canes. These same canes intertwined with each other something fierce, although by the time he called kids to come pick he had made narrow, winding paths through every bit of the thicket. The canes didn't surrender their fruit easily though, and the long branches were heavily armed with thorns up and down their entire length, just waiting to scratch and jab and draw blood. All the while a thick cloud of mosquitoes whined overhead and made frequent sorties down into the patch to draw some blood of their own. A heavy long sleeve shirt and long heavy jeans along with generous doses of Off! were necessary evils in the heat to keep you from looking like you'd been run through a paper shredder.
Our kids were pretty young at that time so they weren't a huge help with the picking. Oh, they picked all right, but they ate more than they put in their buckets or boxes, and after an hour or so they would slip away and find a cool spot in the huge, shady grove to play. At noon Grandpa Ernie would stop work and invite us in for lunch and some homemade grape juice or lemonade, and we'd cool off and rest a while before heading back out to pick for several more hours in the stifling afternoon heat. Slow and quiet conversations took place in the raspberry patch, mingled with shout-outs to the kids to make sure they hadn't wandered too far off. On those hot, muggy summer days, picking berries, detaching the barbed canes from my clothing and waving away mosquitoes, I learned much about my father-in-law, life on the farm in years gone by, and my ex's large extended family.
Eventually we would pack up the kids and drive home towards evening with a massive load of fresh, organic raspberries. I would usually freeze about 100 QUARTS of them! That was in addition to all the raspberry jam I canned. We used raspberries in everything; homemade raspberry ice cream, added to jello, in salads and salad dressings, in milkshakes, in cereal both hot and cold, in desserts, it was such a glut of raspberries I sort of took them for granted. Gradually Grandpa Ernie's health declined and he moved into town, The farm was bought by one of his daughters who had health problems of her own, the raspberry patch got old and run down, and a myriad of squirrel-planted black walnut trees were allowed to grow up and those cast too much shade for the canes to survive. Years later when the farm was sold out of the family, the entire glorious raspberry patch was gone.
I think of that raspberry patch and Grandpa Ernie, and my children as youngsters every time I pick my own raspberries. Lots of great memories of family and good times.