Ingredient: Raspberries, U-Pick

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On the way into town up here on M-119, there was for many years a sign at Emmet Heights road, hand scripted in red paint:


We waited for it every year, and didn’t hesitate to scream it out from the open windows of the big ole custom cruiser wagon as we drove up.

The berries were nestled in a patch on a broad expanse of property. The fruit was always huge, juicy, and we lingered along the rows with baskets that hung around our necks, picking and laughing to my brother’s running commentary about, and especially to, the raspberries.

Turns out that property was worth more to those farmers sold than it was farmed, because one year the sign didn’t go up; we drove back there anyway, only to find our patch was no more. Same sort of thing happened here at the top of the hill as you enter town—acres of flowers used to welcome everyone to Harbor Springs, where Hoovers sold bouquets from the sweetest little white flower shop with a green roof. The skateboard park that replaced it just isn’t the same.

This year we tried to pick at Pond Hill Farm, but their crop didn’t do much, so no picking, they said. So we Googled raspberry picking and didn’t find much that way, but still, we hoped, and hope can be a good thing, sometimes even more useful than Google. Then the other night we drove a good 15 miles (and 30 minutes) north out State Road for dinner at the Crow’s Nest—it was getting late and we had a lot of hungry little kids in the car. When we arrived, the place was closed. As in, shut down. It’s not like you can just drive down the street and find another place to eat out in those parts, so we commiserated for a few minutes in the empty parking lot, then headed back to town. That’s when my sister saw a small sign posted on a telephone pole that read:


The ride north may not have procured dinner, but something much more important. The next day we went back and found the sign, and followed its arrow to the end of Quick Road (I admit I hesitated to reveal that location). There was a fork in the road here that did have a real sign for picking but did not readily lead one in the direction of the picking, so we just drove down each pathway knocking hesitantly on doors, hoping we weren’t entering into a scene from Deliverance, until we drove out into a clearing and found something so akin to our original picking place that we practically hugged the farmers. I started taking photos, and the farmers thought this was all very amusing, especially when I asked if I could photograph them too.

Our group of children, their mama and their Grammy (no, she doesn’t go by Sitto, for reasons all her own) and the original raspberry-picking generation of my brother, my sister, and me tore down the rows as though we were Augustus Gloop in the chocolate factory.

We ate, we picked (10 pounds), we filled our baskets, we quoted lines from movies (my brother’s great skill), we chattered on about, and especially to, our berries:

Hello dark beauty. Do you want to come home with me?

This is truly the finest berry I’ve ever eaten. No, this is the finest berry I’ve ever eaten. No this is.

Coax her off the branch—don’t force her if she isn’t ready, or she won’t taste good.

God is great, msabu.
You are Kahren, msabu.
I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the ngong hills.

Augustus, STOP! Save room for LATER!

The best ones are hiding…Look for the mother lode under the leaves…Lift the branches! Lift them!

Aunt Maureenie, is this one good for picking? Is this one good? Is this one?

Maureen, put down your camera, and START PICKING!

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  1. I jumped here from the strawberry rose lemonade and thoroughly enjoyed and loved it as much as I love raspberries. I love how you tucked the opening Line to “Out of Africa” into your poetic dialogue. Components. Like your strawberry rose lemonade. It reminds me of another line from Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen: “Here I am, where I ought to be.” A line I wrote inside the cover of James Beard’s “The New Tork Times Cook Book” with the intent of inscribing that line in my kitchen.Time passed. The cookbook is now held together with silver duck tape. The line still holds in the book but not on a wall. A good place to make lemonade.

    1. Thank you for appreciating this Stephanie. I love your quote too from Isak Dinesen, beautiful.

  2. Your post perfectly highlights a few of the many, small things and unsung heroes that have given the Little Traverse Bay area its character. Many of our small town gems have gone the way of the Hoover Flower Shop. Admittedly, it’s hard to make a decent living year round up here, and lots of our young people choose to leave the area to find opportunity rather than carry on family traditions. Many of these traditions produce a return on investment that comes in a form other than money. Thankfully, there are still those whose passion for the area keeps them here, doing honest work (the Spencer family from Pond Hill Farm is a perfect example). And a new generation of spririted agri- entrepreneurs, disenchanted with the more mainstream employment options, seems poised to pick up the torch, creating new traditions and memories for your nieces and nephews.

  3. What a bittersweet post! I am SO glad you found a new patch, but wow… So sad to hear about the disappearance of oldies but goodies!

  4. Hi Maureen,
    I’d be curious to know if this kind of raspberries come from a plant with thorns or without thorns.
    Domestic raspberries have no thorns, but wild raspberries are more “challenging” to pick, the plant is akin to that of the wild blackberries and is full of thorns, so you always end up with pierced forearms and fingers 🙂
    I find wild raspberries richer in flavor, like wild strawberries against “normal” strawberries, the former seem like a concentrated version of the latter.


  5. Great story, Cousin! Reminds me of the same search (and longing) I have had for blueberries in northern Michigan each summer in early August….only I am not going to reveal the location of my favorite haunts. But I will invite anyone over for warm blueberry buckle on a Sunday morning in the Fall and Winter! Keep the pictures and stories and recipes flowing, Maureen…we enjoy them all.

  6. I mean it doesn’t get better than that does it? I’m now scouring Google for NJ farms offering u-pick strawberries. Does such a place exist???