Gleaning lady

I spent all yesterday afternoon reenacting a scene from the Bible. It wasn’t the usual Sunday school choice, like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, or Abraham not sacrificing Isaac, or Jacob tricking his father into giving him the blessing meant for his older, hairier brother. (I understand there are also compelling scenes in the New Testament, but we didn’t study that where I went to Sunday school). I was reenacting Leviticus 19:9-10.

Many of you, I’m sure, have Leviticus 19:9-10 at your fingertips. For those of you who don’t, here’s the King James version:

And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger. Signed, God.

Okay, not that last part. It really says, “I am the Lord your God,” but the upshot is the same.

In my reenactment, I was the “poor and stranger.” A couple we know who had just bought a cranberry bog had the much more prestigious role of the farmer. I was the gleaner; they were the gleanee.  They closed on the bog yesterday, at a meeting that started at 1:00. They took possession at 2:00.

The bog had already been harvested, but there were still many berries along the edges. By 2:10, I was picking them.

This wasn’t just gleaning. This was extreme gleaning. There was a frost forecast for that night, and cranberries do not survive a hard frost. While some might live to be gleaned another day, most of what we didn’t get off the bushes yesterday would probably be lost.  I picked almost until dark.

You’ve probably seen the Jean-Francois Millet painting, “The Gleaners.” Once you’ve actually, gleaned, though, you look at the picture with new eyes. Now, all I see is back pain.

See the two women on the left? You can hunch over like that for about seven seconds before your back starts to hurt. That woman on the right? She’s in her eighth second. What she was actually saying has been lost in the mists of time, but I’m betting it was along the lines of, “Whose idea was this?”

Cranberry gleaning is easier than other kinds of gleaning because the bogs are surrounded by ditches. When you pick the berries along the edges, you can brace your back against the wall of the ditch. This helps, but less than you’d think. It also has one serious drawback. As you lean against it, some of the sandy bank inevitably dislodges and goes down your pants. If there were a Top Ten list of places you don’t want angry insects to be, “in your underwear” would be in serious contention.

The payoff, though, was five pounds of gleaned cranberries, and the search for the World’s Best Cranberry Recipe begins. Nominations, anyone?

13 people are having a conversation about “Gleaning lady

  1. Tamar, many thanks!

    As for recipes, though I’ve not made any, there are some good-sounding ones at:

    under recipes, in the ‘cranberries’ menu. One of my favorite foods, I will eat them in any form except frost-killed. Enjoy!

  2. Cranberry sauce with horseradish. It’s a leap of faith I know. You can do a trial run with a glob of cranberry jelly mixed with prepared horseradish to see if you’re keen. Put it on a ritz cracker (or the like) spread with cream cheese. It will make the back pain and bugs in your pants all worthwhile.

    Other favorite is the cranberry-orange bread in the Silver Palate cookbook.

  3. I am really jealous – here in the UK cranberries are expensive and I don’t think we grow them commercially.Your gleaning makes my blackberry and sloe picking look pathetic – but hey ho any food for free is good.

  4. A friend made Cranberry Champagne. Fizzy wine, I guess, given that we’re not in France. I did get a chane to try it and it was more than palatable. I think the recipe was from a wine and spirits recipes book. I’ll see if he still has the recipe, and any advice to go with it.

  5. Jen — Funny you should mention the cranberry/horseradish combination. I saw something about it somewhere, and passed it right by. Maybe I’ll give it a shot, on your recommendation. But if it’s no good, remember that I know where you live. Oh wait …

    Carolj — Don’t be dissing blackberry and sloe picking. I wish I had more of it.

    KB — Now that’s genius. We will definitely trying it.

  6. What a great article. Tamar.

    Reminds me of the hoary old joke from my youth about the preacer who unknowingly had a nest of ants lurking under his lectern. As the insects inevitably climbed up his legs, he was repueted to have bellowed:
    “My children, I have the word of God upon my lips but the devil is in my pants”. (an early urban myth, perhaps?)

    I adore: “Signed, God”. 🙂

    If you have some of those hard-won cranberries left over, do try Fiona’s magnificent Quick Cranberry and Clementine sauce”

  7. Danny — Don’t worry about your typos; I think they’re a sign of breathless enthusiasm. And I have to fess up that the “Signed, God.” was my mother’s joke. She’s smarter than I am.

  8. last year, high on the thrill of finally getting to be around for a cranberry harvest, i basically begged a local with a small bog to let me help him harvest. free grunt labor, is i think how i sold it. he hand harvests, which though easier than gleaning i’m sure, still hurts. a lot.

    with my 15 lbs of cranberries i took as payment, i made the worlds best blood orange and cranberry sauce and then shipped it all across the country. the reviews were positive. this year, i just bought the damn cranberries.

  9. When I left my job at a local food bank, I was given a framed print of that Millet painting. i often come in from back-breaking harvest work and smile grimly at the pastoral scene.

  10. Sue — Funny you should mention that film. My mother asked me the same question.

    Years ago, I saw an Agnes Varda film — I don’t even remember which one it was — that was so dull that it put me off her. But I should give The Gleaners a chance, I think.

  11. I used to pick blueberries as a kid, most of our trees were under 1.5 metres tall.

    For me the secret to a pain-free-pick is: When you’re down Stay Down! Sure your dignity takes a bit of a hit shuffling around like a crab. But it’s the up-down up-down that causes the hurties. Do all the low picking, and then on a second pass, do the high.

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