Using a historical slang phrase that means the same thing as “the bee’s knees” (not sure I get that one), or simply “the best,” we say, “it’s the berries,” to portray an enjoyable and joyous experience. Just we are about to have, quite literally, joy from our local berries. We have wild and domesticated berries growing all over our state, from the famous blueberries and cranberries of the New Jersey Pine Barrens to the strawberries, raspberries and blackberries of our farms and fields. Currants are sparse since they are susceptible to a disease that affects pines and are legally limited to only a few counties around here. Our Pine Barrens represent an important aquifer and we all know how precious water is, or at least should be.
We’ll be enjoying berries in many ways, including sprinkled on top of this apple pancake that’s baked in the oven to puffy perfection.
Behind the berries come the July stone fruits. We have been enjoying cherries, the shortest of all seasons here, and I still have a few cherry treats to tell about. Peaches and apricots will be here soon, as will plums, in their many varieties. I say many but that is relative. There’s a fascinating document called The Plums of New York, a beautiful late 19th century book from the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, which describes and illustrates an astonishing variety of plums once native to New York State. Originally edited by U.P. Hedrick among others, it has recently been digitized and is available online. While I appreciate that our information age permits the free dissemination of such a tome, it’s ironic – and sad — that many of the varieties it depicts are probably extinct.
I was gratified to learn from the book that the so-called German prune plum growing in my grandmother’s western New York backyard was actually properly named and that its resemblance, the so-called Italian prune plum, is a separate tree. Phew, and I’ve thought all these years that the moniker was merely an ethnic claim!