There’s No Burger Tree In The Berry Orchard

Although the best things in life may not be free, you can’t buy them at the grocery store. Al Cambronne reminds us why we do what we do.

Wow. Those blueberry pancakes were incredible—if I do say so myself.

The blueberries I used this morning were wild, picked just a few miles from here. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. Every single tiny berry is an explosion of flavor.

If you are a blueberry farmer, please don’t be offended. But it’s the truth. Your berries don’t taste like our berries. I’ll admit your blueberries are much larger, and last winter I was delighted to find a few packages of fresh ones at the grocery store. For January, they were OK. If you grew those berries, you probably live in Chile or Argentina rather than Michigan or New Jersey. You probably belong to the South American Hunt Club rather than the North American Hunt Club. So I can only say... “Gracias, amigo.”

But even if our wild berries are smaller, the ones my wife and I picked the other day are much tastier. Picking them took time, and we were careful to stop right before it began to feel like work. Not everyone does; some of our more determined neighbors keep picking until the sun goes down. Hunting and gathering, even when they do begin to feel like work, are rewarding in ways that can’t be measured in gallons, pounds, or dollars. (Although a freezer full of venison certainly can save a few dollars that might have otherwise been wasted on cow meat.)

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but neither do blueberries. Time for some stoop labor. In his book Nature’s Garden, foraging expert Samuel Thayer writes that there’s no hamburger tree out in the woods. He reminds us that this won’t be effortless. Expect some work.

Hunting is like that, too. Expect to sweat and get chewed by mosquitos while scouting for deer in August. Expect to get clawed by blackberry bushes in October’s grouse woods, and to freeze your feet in November’s deer woods. But expect, too, the satisfaction of knowing you’ve earned the berries, birds, and venison in your freezer.

That’s something you can’t buy at the grocery store.

Al Cambronne is the author of Gut It. Cut It. Cook It.: The Deer Hunter’s Guide to Processing and Preparing Venison. His most recent book is DEERLAND: America’s Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness. On Twitter: @AlCambronne.