16 June 2009
When I first started growing raspberries, I invariably picked them when they were bright red and full-sized, but not at full flavor: still a little sour. Over time, by tasting hundreds of them, I learned to tell when the berries were truly ripe and ready to be eaten.
The difference revealed that some of the assumptions about ripeness I had absorbed from the American t.v. culture of the 60’s were just wrong. At first, the truth about ripeness was counterintuitive to me.
When raspberries get ripe, their color changes from a clear, bright, raspberry-red to a dull, rich raspberry-purple. Not blackberry-purple, or even black raspberry-purple, but a shade that adds to the raspberry red some of the blue in a glass of merlot.
Far from being more obvious and eye-catching on the bush, they become something that you have to look for and learn to find. The berries that are first reddening are the brightest fire-engine red and attract the eye most. On a ripe berry, the shininess of the skins, produced by the fruits’ being swelled ever more and more by juice, dulls to a blueish bloom like the bloom on a plum.
These berries also are invariably the heaviest, so they hang the lowest and are the most obscured by foliage and the other berries on the cluster. There is a weight to a perfectly ripe berry that makes it the lowest-hanging one on the cluster. In fact, I’ve learned to recognize them by feeling for them beneath a cluster of ripening berries. At peak ripeness, they become heaviest and strain the suspension arc of the cluster and the individual berry stems that keeps the flowers upright and then bends lower and lower as the berries get heavier.
When a berry is perfectly ripe, you can see the band of white around the top of the berry as it releases its grip on the white core of the drupe. You don’t have to tug on it at all to get it off the plant. It wants to jump off into your hand.
More proof that we were made of, and for, the earth, and the earth loves us: I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.