Farm - The Saint Report
Blueberries and Bear Bells
15 years ago, fearing my life was becoming dull, I took my income
tax refund and headed north to Petersburg, Alaska. The money went
further than I had ever dreamed since there was no housing available
and I had to live on an old troller in an old marina, but the cost
of food was still a major dietary determinant. In fact, the only
food cheaper up there than down here was halibut, black cod, and
blueberries. The fish was reasonable and very fresh; the blueberries
were free and even fresher. You just had to go out and pick them.
Every summer day, rain or shine (the year I spent saw 112"
of rainfall), found me out on the muskeg, a can tied around my neck
to free both hands for picking and a bear bell jingling impotently
on my slicker. A bear bell, in case you are wondering, is a bell
worn by berry pickers to ward off any similarly occupied bears that
may be in the vicinity. The belief is that a hungry (else why would
it be out eating berries?) three-hundred pound bear will hear the
feeble dingy-dingy of the bear bell, leap up in alarm and run like
hell in the opposite direction. Alaskans really believe this. Of
course, many Alaskans also believe that hummingbirds migrate on
the backs of Canada geese. I wore the bell anyway, a false sense
of security being better than no security at all.
So I picked all day, day after day, and night after night I cooked
blueberry syrup and blueberry waffles and blueberry pancakes until
my teeth were blue, my lips were blue, my tongue was blue, and my
fingernails were unspeakable. Of course, this mattered little in
Alaska, where dressing up meant changing your socks.
Finally I tired of my own recipes for blueberry everything, I went
to the library in search of more. There I found The Alaska Berry
Cookbook. Filled with anticipation (and cobbler), I turned to
the blueberry section. It began badly, something like this:
"The fastidious cook first soaks the berries in salt water
to remove the worms."
What? What was that? Worms? What worms? The berries I had been eating
didn't have any worms.
I should have just left it at that, but you know how it is. I dropped
a berry into a bowl of brine.
Out of a hole so small I had never noticed it, a tiny white worm
squirmed fitfully. I looked at another berry and then another. Every
single berry had a teeny little hole. I poured a cup of them into
worms wiggled out of every berry, forming a worm raft on the surface.
Some worms expired on their way out of their berries, hanging from
the holes like movie Texans in the gunports of the Alamo.
What to DO, oh, WHAT to DO? Was I going to let an almost instinctive
reluctance to knowingly eat worms ruin the balance of the berry
season? Was I capable of believing that soaking the berries really
removed ALL the worms? Shoot, I had already devoured about a billion
My only hope was that word "fastidious." The book said
that "fastidious" cooks soaked the berries. That must
mean less fastidious cooks ate the worms, or even better, fed the
worms to their friends and family members. I wasn't fastidious.
I was the type of woman who let dogs kiss her on the lips and who
believed you could blow the germs off food that fell on the floor
(pneumatic sterilization). I wasn't fastidious--I could still eat
It was a close call. I returned the berry book to the library and
easily resisted an impulse to check one out on recipes for halibut.
celebrating feast days July 1 include Julius, Aaron, Oliver Plunkett
today include Olivia DeHavilland (1916, Tokyo!), Jamie Farr (1936,
Toledo), and Jean Marsh (1934). George Sand was born on this day
is Anti Boredom Month
Cultivate Your Character Month
National Baked Bean Month
National Bison Month
National Hotdog Month
National Ice Cream Month
National July Belongs to Blueberries Month
National Purposeful Parenting Month
National Recreation and Parks Month
Tahiti and Her Islands Awareness Month
July 1 is Canada Day
Ghana Republic Day
National Freedom from Cancer Day
International Joke Day
National Financial Freedom Day
National Frozen Yogurt Day
National Postal Worker Day
Rwandese Republic Independence Day
Zambia Unity Day
July 1-7 is National Frozen Yogurt Week
National Canned Luncheon Meat Week
to July 2
to June 30
to the Farm
© Marilyn Jones 2000-2008