Pick and choose.

On cold mornings, I make oatmeal for breakfast. My oatmeal is usually simple: sprinkled with honey and some brown sugar, and sometimes featuring a dollop of strawberry jelly or cranberry sauce. This morning, I woke up with a craving for fruit — for berries in particular — and so my bowl of oatmeal was filled with raspberries, blueberries, almond slivers, raisins, apple slices, and a generous dollop of cream.

I bought the berries that adorned my oatmeal at the grocery store this weekend. Berry season in Ontario had ended a while ago, but the imported selection of raspberries and blueberries at the store seemed to scream at me as I walked by them en route to the pears. I bought a small pack of each, and this morning my stomach is thanking me that I did.

Growing up, all the berries I ever ate were imported from California and other such places down south, and always bought at the grocery store. It was the same way with all the fruit we ever consumed, except for the two years in elementary school when my class took a trip to Chudleigh’s Apple Farm to “pick” apples. (Our picking experience was limited to 2-3 trees, and even then, we’d only get to pick 1-2 apples each.) All through my childhood, fruit for me was something you picked from a bin at the store, placed in a plastic bag, and threw in the fridge as soon as you got home.

I knew that it wasn’t that way for everyone. In the first few weeks of school after the summer break, many of the kids would tell me stories of going berry-picking or peach-picking with their family over the summer. Through the fall, I’d hear of weekend trips to pumpkin-patches and farms, and see freshly-picked pears and apples in lunch-boxes in the lunchroom. I reveled in their stories, but didn’t really feel as though I was missing much: I always had good fruit in my paper lunch-bag, and it didn’t quite matter where it was from.

This past summer, during a road trip through the Niagara wine country, we stopped at Cherry Avenue Farms to pick peaches.

The experience was nothing like the controlled apple-picking experience I had at Chudleigh’s as a child. Instead, Maria and I were taken away on a tractor to an endless expanse of peach trees, with ripe juicy peaches ready to be picked and placed in a basket, or even better, eaten right there on the spot. We came away with a basket of fruit, sticky fingers, and insides bursting with happiness.

In the schoolyard, when my friends used to tell me about their weekend fruit-picking excursions, I couldn’t help but notice just how much they smiled as they told their stories. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. There’s a certain joy you get from picking and choosing, from knowing that your own hands carried the fruit from the tree to your lunch-box. I’m smiling now, too, as I think of our peach-picking excursion from a few months ago.

Next summer, I’d like to go berry-picking too. My oatmeal needs a burst of color, from time to time.