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Published: Tuesday, 7/12/2011

Berries are region's very best secret

Why am I smiling so broadly? Why am I radiant with cheer, my face lit with joy? And why is my step so light?

It's the berries.

No one told me about the berries.

This is my first summer in the region. On a recent trip to Marblehead, we picked up a quart of strawberries from a roadside stand. Even though it was a bit out of the way, the farmer was doing a pretty good business. One purchase, one bite, and we instantly knew why.

Those strawberries were so sweet, so succulent, so bursting with rapturous goodness. Soft, lovely, and smelling of a sweet perfume, these red bites of heaven were smaller than the pale, tougher berries we were used to, the ones shipped into stores from California and Florida.

I always thought those were pretty good, in their plastic clam shells. But these local strawberries were bold and full-flavored, like tiny bursts of sunlight in your mouth.

I still remember with fondness the best strawberries I had ever had, before last week. We picked them fresh from a friend's garden in Oxford, Ohio, and ate them with the warmth of the summer sun still in them. That was almost 40 years ago, and the memory is still with me. They were superb, they were superlative, but they weren't as delicious as the ones that grow here.

No one told me about the berries.

And then there are the raspberries. I happen to love raspberries, even more than strawberries. But they are always a little bit disappointing, because they taste just a bit more tart than you think they should.

Ah, but that is only because I wasn't eating raspberries from here.

It should not have come as such a surprise. I have been buying jars of raspberry jam from a local producer at farmers' markets, and they have been sheer perfection, nirvana in a Mason jar, the Platonic ideal of what a raspberry jam should be.

But I thought, in my naivete, that the pure, undiluted, sweet raspberry taste somehow came from the wizardry of the jam-makers. I had not known -- I had not even considered the thought -- that the flavor could come so blissfully undiluted from the berries themselves.

But then I bought some raspberries. And now I know. I have crossed over the mountaintop and I have tasted the light.

They were soft and sweet and heavenly to eat. Not a hint of anything tart, not a whisper. It was as if the concentrated flavor of all raspberries were in each one.

No one told me about the berries.

Still to come are blueberries and cherries from Michigan, and I could not be more excited. The blueberries from other states have been excellent this year, anyway, with a pure, sweet flavor like drops of blue honey. Just imagine how extraordinary they will be, how miraculous, when they are plucked fresh from our region's fertile farms.

And it will not be long before we begin to see our wonderful tomatoes, each bite bursting in a clean, bright taste.

And after the tomatoes comes the corn, so sweet and juicy and tasting of summer. I have eaten corn from the ocean-side docks of Maine to the mighty San Joaquin Valley of California, and nowhere have I had corn as sublime as it is here.

We are blessed to live, as one friend says, around such freakishly good farmland. We share our tomatoes and our corn with the rest of the world.

But don't tell anyone about the berries.

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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