Maria Mitchell’s Attic
Wild Berries

Wild strawberries are out!  And if you can get to them before the birds and the bunnies and other small Nantucket mammals, then you are in for a delicious treat!  They are TINY as you can see by the image but they are wonderfully delicious and so flavorful.  You have to look hard as this strawberry grows extremely close to the ground and like other varieties has a trailing tendency in its growth.  The leaves are small and at this time they have a few that turn red but keep your eyes peeled and you will be rewarded.

It makes me think about Maria Mitchell and her siblings as children and a group of them possibly rambling over the moors in the afternoon summer sun, picking berries that were ripe and eating them for lunch, or being sent out by Lydia Mitchell to gather whatever berries might be in fruit for a pie – it probably may have also been to get them out from underfoot!  Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, elderberries, even cranberries in the marshy areas in the fall. 

Today, it’s still a nice thing to do and rewarding.  I found these strawberries as I was walking our dog.  She was less than pleased as I took my time to pick and eat a few – needless to say, none made them back home for my husband to eat.  Blackberries are out too – I collected a nice handful on my parents’ land this weekend, eating them as I walked with their dog.  Now, I am closely watching the blueberries now, hoping I get to them before the birds.  I now have two bushes of my own, but I still prefer to pick the wild blueberries.  Given the winter and spring, I am hoping for big and flavorful ones.  They work nicely for muffins and if you make several batches, you can eat fresh blueberry muffins all winter long.  We used to pick low bush when I was young – my Mother, brother, and I with colanders or coffee cans with string through them to put around our necks  - out in the moors in a secret spot that will not be revealed!  If someone happened upon us and asked what we were doing, the response was usually, “Nothing,” as we did not want anyone to catch on.  We worked quietly, eating a few, listening to the birds, avoiding poison ivy, and on a rare occasion emitting a short loud scream as a snake crossed our path – snakes are fine, just not when they surprise you.  I still prefer low bush – a bit backbreaking, it would help if one were the size of the Tinies or the Borrowers – but still well worth it.  And when you bite into a fresh, homemade blueberry muffin − and you picked the blueberries    yourself – even better!


Winter Hush

Overnight, Nantucket received about six inches of snow.  Mitchell House sparkles this morning and there is a hush on Vestal Street that only snow brings.

It makes me wonder what is must have been like for the Mitchells.  Being inside Mitchell House while the snow is falling transports me to another time and I like to think about what it must have been like for them.  Cold I am sure but even quieter than a normal day.  William Mitchell was what one might call a mischievous Quaker – his children got away with things that most Quaker children did not.  So I wonder if there were snowmen built in the backyard.  Or what about snowballs being flung about by Andrew or Henry or snow angels or eating fresh crisp snow maybe with molasses or syrup on it?  I am sure just as children of today, the snow provided the opportunity for expanded play albeit quietly and discreetly for the Quaker Mitchells.

But I go back to the snug, quiet, hushed calm of the Mitchell House in winter.  Snow falling and piling up quietly outside, fire in the 1825 Kitchen as Lydia cooks the noonday meal, fire in the Sitting Room where the family spends much of its time in winter, and the calm and peace over Vestal Street as Mother Nature makes a wondrous quilt of white.