The ultimate in dining al fresco

I've always been a stickler for manners. But when the harvest begins to roll in, my adherence to etiquette leaves abruptly. After all, there is nothing like standing in the garden, picking and eating, picking and eating.

My 10-year-old finds this gluttony rather appalling. That her mother will regularly wade into the raspberry patch, only to stuff berry after berry into her mouth, is a sight she does not wish to see.

No matter. During the summer I regularly don a long pair of pants and walk slowly into the patch by myself. My competitor, the cardinal, sounds an alarm - although I am always careful to leave enough for him.

The sun has been out for hours, warming my berries until they are hot to the touch. That's the way I like them: red-ripe and dripping with juice, warm from the sun that ripened them so quickly. I emerge only when my belly is full; there will be plenty more tomorrow.

I suppose I come by this habit honestly. When I was a child, my father taught me to eat lettuce by rinsing it quickly, sprinkling it with sugar, and rolling it up like a crepe. This had to be done quickly, he would intone, before the lettuce got cold - and that meant standing in the garden, eating lettuce in the hot Maryland sun. Salad just isn't the same, and my "sugar crepes" are really the only way I like my lettuce.

This morning my husband said that the strawberries needed picking. I fear that he will want some of those, so squatting in the patch to eat alone is out of the question. Then again, perhaps I will try once more to convert him. Strawberries warmed by the sun are almost as good as hot raspberries.

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