Thoreau Thursdays (43): Tasting the Fruits of Your Labors

February 9, 2012

“It is a vulgar error to suppose that you have tasted huckleberries who never plucked them.”
—  Henry David Thoreau, Walden

In Washington we have an abundance of blackberries rather than huckleberries.

“The fruits do not yield their true flavor to the purchasers of them.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

How poor Thoreau would find me, a city dweller, who procures virtually all of my food from supermarket shelves.  And while our neighborhood farmers’ markets give us access to locally grown food, we simply buy it with our coins.  How rarely do we plant, nurture, harvest and preserve our own food.  According to Thoreau, we are missing out on the true flavor of food when we do not grow or pick it with our own hands.

Having grown up on a farm, I still hold a deep appreciation for the hard work that goes into bringing food to the table.  I’ve butchered chickens, so I understand the life that was once vibrant in my packaged chicken quarters.  I’ve milked a cow by hand, so I remember the source of my glass of milk.  I’ve made my own blackberry jam from hand-picked berries, so I can appreciate the work behind a jar received as a gift.

Snapshot of me milking our family's cow in 1972, forty years ago!

Much is lost when we forego laboring with our own hands, for the value of the work is not just the finished product, but also the feelings of artistry, productivity, and self-worth built along the way.  And it is true that we savor the end product more when we’ve created it ourselves.

One of my colleagues gives our library staff jars of her homemade blackberry jam each Christmas, and each spoonful bursts with the tastes of summer and Shirley’s shared joy in nature’s abundance.  Everything that is in a jar of Shirley’s jam is what Thoreau is alluding to in this week’s quote.

Shirley's jam on breakfast scones

Homemade jam from hand-picked blackberries

Sweet goodness

“The advantage of riches remains with him who procured them, not with the heir.  When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands.  But not only health, but education is in the work.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

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9 Responses to “Thoreau Thursdays (43): Tasting the Fruits of Your Labors”

  1. Elisa's Spot Says:

    I like noticing that some of the things that appear to spring forth from these writers, that are used to support a gimme gotcha work ethic are very twisted. I note the idea of feeling physical work move and strain each muscle fiber that God granted. I note the idea of appreciation for each small thing that contributes. I do not see that as work. I see it as noticing and employing gratitude and reciprocity for the things that are provisions and things that spring forth from our hands in adoration for the Creator and the creation.

  2. garden2day Says:

    A great post. I can identify with this, too. We tend to appreciate things more when we understand the effort that has gone into something. I love the photo of you milking the cow. We personally don’t labor as hard as I did growing up and though I’m not sure that I can, I do miss it because I lack the complete feeling that comes from results of hard work like growing much of our food. Times change but attitudes don’t need to. Love blackberries!!!!!!!

    • Rosemary Says:

      I miss it, too, but it does take time. Back then when I was growing up, I did not work outside the home. We had school, but our chores were built into the rhythm of our day. Somehow I feel like I have less time these days to do all the labor of my hands that I wish I could do.

  3. sandy bessingpas Says:

    Amen to everything said.

  4. Shirley Says:

    The annual making of blackberry jam is part of my family summer ritual. As children we were “required” to pick enough berries for two batches of jam each morning during berry season. Any extras would be made into cobbler or added to the pancake batter. I have taken over the jam making duties from my mother and now it is my father (age 89) that does the picking. He just won’t stop! The berries are so enticing and they are free so he can’t leave them on the vine. By the time I get up in the morning he has the berries already picked and ready to cook. It is a joy to share our bounty with friends and family.

  5. Bonnie Young Says:

    Beautiful thoughts and lush photos!


  6. […] Thoreau Thursdays (43): Tasting the Fruits of Your Labors […]


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