Black Raspberries

Following the unpleasantness of milkweed (see previous post), I needed a palate-cleanser.  Though the purpose of this weblog was to spur me into trying new local foods, I’m writing about a long-time favorite today.  It’s wild raspberry season in Michigan, and that’s a beautiful thing.  I’ve got about 4 patches around the city that are worth visiting, but one is within walking distance of my home.  It’s not far from a busy street, so I was treated to conversation with a few passersby who saw me waist-deep in the brambles.  The highlight was an exchange with a few sceptical youths, who asked me if I needed to wash them off before I ate them.  I didn’t give them the long answer–these haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, handled with improper sanitary measures, packed into crates, bathed in diesel smoke and road dust, and put on store shelves several days after being picked.  Instead, I said, “They should be OK.  It just rained.”

Finding Raspberries

Like the past several entries, raspberries grow in marginal areas between wooded areas and paths, rivers, fields, or roads.  I imagine the combination of fertile leaf-enriched soil with increased sunlight plays a factor here.  It’s not hard to spot raspberries visually, especially in the spring, when their arching, blue-grey-green canes are not yet covered in the greener, more nondescript leaves.  Raspberries are most easily found, of course, by accidentally wandering into the middle of a patch.  Most people with any experience in the less-cultivated areas of their neighborhood have had an intimate meeting with brambles.  When you find a patch that isn’t fruiting, remember it and return.  Some patches fruit heavily, and some will disappoint, so it pays to always keep an eye open. 

Harvesting Raspberries

The faint of heart can usually pull a decent harvest from the edge of a bramble patch, but the committed go in.  Scratches will happen, blood will be lost, and sweaters will be snagged, so dress appropriately.  I usually wear shorts and a t-shirt I don’t mind getting stained, as raspberry juice can leave a mark.  Most of the wild raspberries I’ve found are black; if you’re picking red raspberries, you’ll have to taste a few to find out what indicates ripeness.  In black raspberries, look for dark, plump, shiny berries.  I use a gentle three-finger grab and pull the berry off of it’s “plug”, so that only the edible part comes off. 

Harvesting is easier than transporting.  I have a few broad, flat tupperware (used for packing sandwiches, I gather) that are ideal.  If the berries are packed too deep, the bottom berries will get crushed.  Wild berries are a bit firmer than the store-bought variety, but I still don’t stack them more than two deep.

In an hour, including commute (on foot), I gathered a couple of pints.  Given the cost of a little plastic clamshell of over-ripe raspberries at the grocery store, raspberries may be the only foraged food that return a respectable per-hour value.

Preparing Raspberries

I’ve never gathered enough raspberries at one time to do anything with them but eat them out of hand or with cereal or ice cream.  I had a conversation with a gentleman today while picking who described a raspberry shortcake recipe that sounded delicious, but I’ve yet to find a method of preparing raspberries that improves on their natural state.

Eating Raspberries

Everybody’s eaten raspberries, so there’s not much to say in this section.  I will say that I can’t imagine the sales pitch raspberry breeders make for their latest specimen, because commercial raspberries aren’t really an improvement on the wild versions.  The may be a little larger, but that’s not really a selling point.


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2 Responses to “Black Raspberries”

  1. Robinson Says:

    Raspberry season is my favorite. We have some acreage with wooded areas at the edges and there is nothing better. In years past, I’ve gotten a gallon or more of berries from my property which is more than enough to eat some fresh and make enough jam to last the winter and share some with friends. This year, only a handful 😦

  2. Robinson Says:

    Oh, I meant to add, that if you prune “your” patches you may end up with more. Check for information on proper pruning with an extension site.

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