Who’s picking my patch?
Blackberries are the last berries to ripen for the summer — and herald the coming fall as nights turn chilly and ground fog hovers over the fields.
From our sweet, sun ripened Maine strawberries in late June, early July, through the best blueberries in the world — our Wild Maine blueberries — to the raspberries and now the sweet blackberries, ovens have been busy baking muffins, pies, "Betty’s” and crisps.
Breakfast plates have been filled with berry pancakes and berry jams and jellies are put up in sparkling glass jars for the coming months.
This year, I have eaten my share of all of the berries, but never baked or cooked them in anything. I even resisted my favorite berry dish, berries with cream and sugar. I just ate them all as they came from the fields and bushes. Well, I did put handfuls of them on top of pancakes — I use a gluten-free mix that is delicious — with slathers of butter and warm maple syrup. But the berries are still not cooked.
Picking berries always puts me in mind of the farm all those long decades ago. Grampa Roy grew — and sold — strawberries and boysenberries, but I liked the wild strawberries best. Grammie would send me out to pick some for desert. That took some time as I would sit in the fields and eat as many as I brought back. And my dog Joe would pick his own as well. Then, after supper, a bowl of those sweetest little berries with fresh cream and sugar was a treat indeed.
Grampa had a time of it keeping the crows from getting his berries. Nothing seemed to work until he finally just shot one and hung it up in the berry patch. They got the message.
Tucker Ridge had been settled back in the first half of the 1800’s and among the first settlers were the brothers Samuel and Asia Tucker. They carved their farms out of the wilderness, across the road from one another — the road they also cut through the woods. They had come down from the Columbia/Jonesport area. Their farms were on the Springfield end of the road, named Tucker Ridge. (The Springfield end of the road is now named "West Tucker Ridge" as the stretch of a mile of it between The Springfield and the Webster Plantation sides has been grown over for more'n 80 years. You now get to the farm from the other end of Ridge Road.)
As their children grew and married, other families moved in and settled in the area. It was great potato growing country and a starch factory was even built there, bringing in more families. Tucker Ridge road was extended and ran through the area that became named Webster Plantation. Samuel's son, Samuel III, (my great grandfather) established his farm, half on the Springfield side and half on the Webster Plantation side.
He cleared fields for pastures and crops — mainly barley. Originally, the farm had 500 acres, 100 of them wrestled from the virgin forest and 400 left for foresting. He built a saw mill and a grist mill.
As more people were drawn to settle along the Ridge road, a school was built, two miles down from the Tucker Farm. And, of course, every farm house soon had lilacs, rose bushes and berry bushes established around it, including gooseberries and currants.
A hundred years later, my brother and I were taken to live on the farm with Grampa Roy and Grammie Mable. By then, the starch factory was long gone, along with other job providing enterprises and many of the old farms had been reclaimed by the forest. It was the beginning of people leaving the farms and seeking work in the factories. It was also the days of the Great Depression and World War II. But it was a good place for two little kids to be.
We always had plenty of food, most grown and provided on the farm. And come berry season, beside the berries Grampa grew and the little wild strawberries in the fields, Grammie would make her picking trek through the woods for raspberries and blackberries. She knew where the old cellar holes of the old farms were and where the berries still grew.
One such place, in particular, was her favorite and she considered it her private picking patch. Down through the forest half a mile or so form the farm, it was quite a hike through the woods and pucker brush. But, come time, she’d grab the berry baskets — and me — and off we’d go. I was happy to be included and went off merrily, with visions of berry pie after supper.
On one such picking forage, as we were picking, there was a rustling on the far edge of the berry bushes. Grammy stood up with a “humph,” ready to set the berry picking interloper straight and send them on their way. (One did not mess with Mable Tucker.)
I stood up, eager to see what promised to be a feisty confrontation. The other party, now hearing us, also stood up. And there we stood, face to face... with a bear. I froze. Actually, we all froze, equally shocked. Then all three of us gasped, threw up our hands, spun around and took off.
I never stopped running ‘til I got back to the farm. Grampa Roy, trying to understand my gasping, gesturing story, finally laughed and said: “See, Marion. It’s like I’ve always told you about the bears around here. They’re just as afraid of you as you are of them.”
I always believed everything my Grampa said — except that.
Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award winning columnist, is a graduate of Belfast now living in Morrill