Posts Tagged ‘raspberries’

Easy Pickings: Foraging on Farms

August 18, 2010

This entry is not about gleaning, which is picking over a field to pick up what the harvesters missed.  For information on gleaning in the present day, there’s an interesting if slow-moving documentary called The Gleaners and I.

Farm foraging is the practice of finding abandoned farms and searching their grounds for horticultural holdouts from the past.  Old farms are pretty easy to spot–the sagging barns, sun-bleached houses, and rusted sheds are a pretty common sight in the rural corners of the midwest.  Until recently, farmers lived where they grew, and kept kitchen gardens in addition to the fields, where they grew their main crop.  Although a garden bed can be completely weeded over after a month or two of neglect, some of the other garden plantings can continue growing a generation after the farm was shuttered.

On a recent hiking trip, my family spent some time passing though several abandoned homesteads.  Close to the houses, we found apples, good enough to eat out of hand (a rare quality in non-commercial apples) and big, sweet blackberries with very few seeds.  The apple tree was probably planted several decades ago as part of an orchard, and the blackberries had probably spread far from their original spot–they’re notoriously invasive.

I would expect that other farms still have asparagus patches, grapes, rhubarb, raspberries, gooseberries, and other long-lived perennials growing, long after their planters have moved on.  Other self-propagators, like sunflowers, Jerusalem artichoke, nasturtium, and squash may even be sprouting year after year.

Kitchen gardens were usually placed as close as possible to the house, to make it easy to harvest as necessary.  If the house is still standing, the garden should be easy to find.  If not, look for the foundation–it’s likely grown over with weeds, but should still be standing.  While you’re working around the foundation, don’t forget to look for those edible ornamentals, like roses and daylilies.

Mulberries

June 23, 2009

I thought eating mulberries was a universal childhood experience, but my wife and I found a mulberry tree on a walk, and it had never occurred to her to eat them.  With that in mind, I submit this entry.

Finding Mulberries
I don’t remember ever seeing a mulberry tree “in the wild”—they’re always along sidewalks, in backyards, etc.  They are medium-sized trees, topping out around 15-25 feet tall, with a weirdly lobed leaf.  They are most easily identified by their berries, which look a lot like raspberries and start out white, then turn pink, and wind up nearly black.

Harvesting Mulberries
I read (I think in Stalking the Wild Asparagus) about a method for harvesting mulberries.  By placing a big sheet under a tree and shaking the tree, all of the ripe berries will come loose and land on the sheet.  I did not have this option available, as the tree I was picking from was growing alongside a parking lot.  I brought a bowl, picked berries by hand, and put them into the bowl in a shallow layer.  If they get stacked up too high, the ones on the bottom get crushed by the ones on the top.

Preparing Mulberries
When picked, the little stem stays on the fruit.  You can leave it on.  Although they can be eaten out of hand, or right off the tree, they are best mixed with other fruits.  Smoothies, fruit salads, and cobblers are all great uses for mulberries.

Eating Mulberries
My copy of The Joy of Cooking suggests that mulberries are best left for children, and I’d agree that they aren’t great by themselves.  They have a bland sweetness that is easy to get sick of.  Mixed with other fruit, though, they’re delicious.

Black Raspberries

July 10, 2008

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.