A Berry, Berry Good Time of Year

You will be treated very hospitably by Vivian Brock, retired art teacher and lifelong raspberry zealot. If you are even remotely civil, she will fix you a cup of raspberry tea, give you a couple of perfect raspberry plants, autograph a copy of her new book, Raspberry Story, and perhaps even appear before you in her raspberry theme outfit, complete with raspberry earrings made from garnet beads and a raspberry-colored jacket decorated with twining canes and blossoms.

Just don't get all democratic on her and turn the conversation to other fruits.

"Strawberries?" she'll say, backing slightly away from what she assumes is the camaraderie of another fanatic. "You like them. Well, they are the number-one fruit." (Listen for the implied "allegedly.")

"Many strawberries are sold," she continues. "But, as one woman told me at the Raspberry Festival, raspberries are the Cadillac of fruits."

Understood? Good. Now, back to the subject at hand.
Imagine a day filled with nothing but raspberries--which, in the Colorado fall, when most of them ripen, is a distinct possibility.

"I would begin with a raspberry pancake with raspberry syrup," Vivian says. "Then I would go out to the raspberry patch and eat my fill. If I didn't have a patch of my own"--although there is no excuse for this, as they grow wild almost everywhere in the colder parts of the world--"I would buy healthy Colorado raspberries, not the ones they spray. Then I might go talk to people about raspberries and what they make out of them. Vinegars, jams, chutneys...That night, I would eat them with elk and buffalo and venison. I have a recipe for a raspberry sauce so good you could eat it on cardboard."

But not until you have harvested several pint-fuls. To do this, you need to reach in through the thorns and prickers of a raspberry thicket, determine which berries are ripe enough to give way when you grab them but not so ripe that they turn instantly to mush, and plunk them gently in a flattish container. Naturally, you would eat half the berries you found before you got to the end of the row.

In no way is raspberry-picking efficient. But is it rewarding? Only successful oil exploration compares.

In fact, the two processes are similar: You can't believe nature could invent something so rich, and once you develop a taste, you want to HAVE IT ALL.

"Well, I never have," Vivian observes. The raspberry patch in her Cherry Hills Village backyard measures twenty by forty feet and would be nearly impossible for anyone not clothed in asbestos to penetrate. "It's a very healthy patch," she says. "You're supposed to replace the canes every eight years, but these ones have been here for 27. They're called Jewel Maul, and they're almost impossible to find anymore. But here they are."

Vivian has admired a good strong patch all her life and has had one to call her own since she was nine, the year her single mother sent her from Denver to spend the summer with an aunt in the Pacific Northwest. "She lived in a small farmhouse, where a lot of things grew--the roses, the berries," Vivian recalls, "but it was the raspberries that got me. It's the smell, that's what it is. They have it over the Himalaya [berries], the blackberries, the boysenberries. They just have it."

As a young teacher in upstate New York, Vivian discovered berries growing wild and took her first-grade classes out to pick them. Moving from there to Michigan, then to Idaho and finally back to Denver, she continued to produce berries, by cultivation and salvage.

During two sabbaticals from the Cherry Creek School district, she traveled the world, partly for her own education as a teacher and partly because her husband, a retired Presbyterian minister, had become a bead-trader and owned fourteen stores of the same name.

Mainly, however, she was impressed by the roaming habit of the common raspberry. "South Africa had them, Chile has terrific ones, Italy and Czechoslovakia," she recalls, "which, of course, is the raspberry capital of Europe."

By 1997, when she retired, Vivian had enough recipes and herbal trivia for a self-published book, which grew to contain not just recipes for muffins, pancakes and the good-enough-for-cardboard sauce, but also a killer daiquiri recipe, health advice for women and their uteruses, and philosophy. "I'll bet you have heard the saying...it's impossible to be too rich or too thin," she writes in the book's introduction. "There are those of us who would say, '...or have too many raspberries.'"

The raspberry could be all things to all people (it cures both constipation and diarrhea, she likes to point out), and hence, Raspberry Story was "a book the world needed." But how to let the world know? Vivian decided to take a road trip through raspberry country, from northern California through Washington State. Stopping at bookstores along the way, she sold her book in ones and twos until she landed in Lynden, Washington, "where 78 percent of the nation's commercial raspberries are grown."

On the spot, she was invited to appear at Lynden's official Raz Festival this past May, when she toured berry-producing factories, gave a presentation to the wives of raspberry growers, attended a dinner at which ten of her recipes were served, and enjoyed the personal escort of the Washington State Raspberry Commissioner.

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