Why Do People Plant Berries They Can’t Eat?

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 16 2013 9:03 AM

Why Do People Plant Berries They Can’t Eat?

Blueberry Fool with Yogurt

Photo by James Ransom

Dinner vs. Child is a biweekly column about cooking for children, and with children, and despite children, originally published in Food52 and now appearing on Brow Beat.

Today: The second best way to eat berries: Nigel Slater's four-ingredient Blueberry Fool with Yogurt.


I spend about half my walks with Isaiah, who’s 4, telling him that he can’t eat that either. Not that berry, or that berry, or this berry. They’re not for people to eat, I tell him. They’re for people to, you know, look at.

After being told this yet again, he once asked, with the sorrowful anger of the righteous, “But Dada, why do people plant berries that they can’t eat?”

I knelt down and looked him in the eye. “I don’t know, son,” I said. “I just don’t know.”

And then I felt the warm, abiding pleasure that a father feels when he has passed his deepest prejudice on to his children. Some fathers feel this when their child first roots against the Yankees. I felt it when my child turned against inedible landscaping.

My credo is roughly: A berry I can’t eat is a berry wasted.

I am aware that this is a solipsistic, speciesist, naïve understanding of the natural world. But when it comes to berries, I am no better at sharing than the squirrels. There are never enough for me.


Photo by James Ransom

I have passed this belief on to my children too. For the last month Mila, despite not being able to talk, has held every dinner hostage from his highchair: Either the baby gets more blueberries, he says, grunting. Or this lovely, peaceful family meal is over. As of a week ago, he’s able to stand under the blueberry bushes and pick his own. The other day we neglected him long enough to discover that he’d given up on blueberries and was in the middle of a source of protein that is uncommon in this country. Apparently it paired well with blueberries.

There’s a family legacy to honor here. Some families bond by watching football, or playing cards, or stewing silently over dinner. Mine bonded by trash talking while berry picking. It’s hard to trash talk when your container of blueberries looks exactly the same as everyone else’s, but that’s what pushed our trash talking to the next level. After all, that’s what the best parents do: They create an environment in which their children can achieve things they’d never thought possible.

There’s another family legacy I hope to honor someday: making the children go berry picking. In my childhood, a thicket of raspberries grew in the crevice between our home and the house next door. To a person with any respect for human rights, the thicket looked impassable. But my parents looked at it and had the same insight the British once had about chimneys: Children are just the right size.

As a 9-year-old in that thicket, prickled from head-to-toe, I first realized why people have children: because the raspberries need to be picked.

My preferred recipe for berries is like an Alice Waters parody: First, obtain a perfectly ripe berry. Second, eat.

I try to find dessert in summer, rather than make it. My attitude is that any self-respecting summer should make dessert for you, and you simply need the modesty to accept it and say thank you and then wipe the cherry juice off your chin. 

But I allow for minimal improvements: cream, yogurt. My favorite lately is a variation on the British fool which offers both: whipped cream and yogurt folded into blueberries. It comes from Nigel Slater’s Tender and it tastes like an idyll: resonant with blueberry, sumptuous but not oppressive, with a slight tang and a cloud-like texture. You can lose yourself in it. When you emerge, go pick more blueberries.

Blueberry Fool with Yogurt
Adapted from Nigel Slater's Tender
Serves 4

2 cups blueberries
2 tablespoons honey
¾ cup heavy cream
⅔ cup yogurt (whole, either Greek or regular) 


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