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Sunday, July 06, 2008
can ya still call it foraging when you're 15 feet from your porch?
Listening to:just guess
Reading:o's d, still
Weather:75, sunny
I've got a bumper crop of black raspberries this year, much of which is either frozen in bags or freezing on a metal toaster oven tray as we blogspeak. Most years I've been inundated with the pesky blackberry out here. But not this year. A heady combo of wet spring, me not filling the bird feeders so diligently in March and April, two old trucks upon which black raz may naturally trellis, and me filling the bird feeders so diligently TWO SPRINGS AGO have resulted in a great bounty right now.

What's the diff between blackberry and black raspberry, you ask? Not, not you locals, y'all please skip ahead. This paragraph is strictly is for the carpetbaggers, those afraid to get their hands dirty, and those for whom wildlife means 50 cent drafts at Gene's. Blackberries are bigger, have slightly bigger seeds, and when you pick them the core stays in the berry. Black raspberries on the other hand are smaller, even smaller than red raspberries, sweeter when ripe, and when you pick them the core stays on the plant, so you get a hollow berry.

Here's a trick I learned this season on how to tell a black raspberry vine from a blackberry vine before they set fruit: black raspberry canes are cylindrically round, where blackberry canes are polygons, they have various flat sides. This difference gets more obvious the bigger cane.

One reason you might want to know this is because the canes don't produce fruit until the second year. So if you want to rid yourself of the noxious blackberry, but keep the canes that will produce black raspberries next summer, hack down the canes with flat sides. The leaves and even the blossoms are damn near identical. I think the blackberry canes tend to grow a bit taller and straighter than black raz, at least they do here in Gladesville. As soon as they each begin to set green fruit you can tell which is which, blackberries have much bigger and fewer little round segments in each berry.

You can't buy black raspberries at the grocery store. Leastways not 'round here. [I have unwittingly slipped into some kind of twang in my head that I perceive wise old farmers to use, bear with me.] They are so much tastier than any similar kinds of berries you get at the store, way worth the effort to forage or cultivate. Here's some stuff I have learned about that:

When you're looking at a good year, and you see plenty of red berries getting ready to ripen, go get yourself some garden netting to keep the birds off. The birds apparently like all berries and cherries just slightly more tart than you do. Thwart them from snagging those babies before they reach peak black ripeness by throwing this netting over your bramble. You don't have to cover every inch, they did, afterall, plant these bad boys for you two years ago, so let them have a few. I even thank them as I pick each day, just to let them know I appreciate their seed-spreading potty habits. BTW, the netting I bought has squares about an inch and half wide. This is about perfect, methinks.

Git you a clean bucket [return of twang] or something lightweight with high sides so you can't easily spill your harvest when you startle at a thorny prick. Oh yes, you'll get plenty, both of berries and of thorny pricks. They have a little venom in there, too, just to remind you later by hiving up a bit that plants will gang up on your and kick your ass if you're not careful. Fear no bear, they don't even care you exist, more people die every year at the hands of plants, and that's for real.

Anyhoo, stand still and look for black glistening fat berries right in front of you. I mean black. If it's got a blush of reddish purple, leave it. It'll be there for you tomorrow, and it'll be much better, believe me. Don't harvest unripe berries, it's just stupid. It only takes one day, seriously, for that berry that looks about ripe to get actually ripe, so just wait for it, grasshopper. The difference in taste is substantial.

Don't reach, just get those easily within your reach. You can reach later, once you've cleared out the best black juicy berries right next to you. Now you see one, reach your index finger and thumb together through one square of netting to get to that berry. Oh, you think you are so mighty adroit that you can just use your index finger and middle finger to get that berry? Oh really? You go ahead, do that, I'll wait.

[whistles "Velveteen Queen" by the Major Labels, damn that hooky powerpop chorus earworm!]

OK, now that your berry has fallen into the abyss of the bramble, I'll tell you how you fucked up. Unless you're using your beak to get these bad boys, an opposeable thumb is a critical tool here. Why? First, because you cannot know ripeness merely from sight, the berry must also pass the tug test. You give berry the slightest tug between finger and thumb, and if it gives anything but the slightest resistance it is not ripe. The vine should barely wiggle when you pull off a ripe berry. If it slingshots you just picked an unripe berry, and the plant will likely tell you so with a nice little prick of a thorn, as well. Second, once the berry gives you need dexterity to get it to the bucket. You can't grip it like your monkey because you'll squish the precious little juice drupelets (look it up, it's a real word), thereby damaging the berry and dying a smear of your hand purple.

Don't yank on the net much, it will actually shear off the ripest berries. Also don't reach through more than a layer or two of overlapped net. And if you're stupid enough to put thumb through one square and finger through another, cuz you're too hurried to wait that extra fraction of a second to do it right, you'll wish you hadn't. Most of the time, anyway. Cuz once you loosen that berry and can't pull it straight out of the net you'll get to fumble around and eventually watch gravity pull that berry down, bouncing it off strands of net like a game of Pachinko, hoping that your bucket is in the right spot to catch it.

But after you do that about twice you'll straighten up. Because when the first berries are really ripe there are many many times more that are in various stages of red and purple, taunting you.

Another tip, when you're a-pickin one and from that angle you see another glistening black one ready for harvest just at the edge of your reach, don't look away from berry #2 to reset your footing. Learn to move your feet without looking, cuz the second you take your eyes off that berry, the deep magic will disappear that bad boy, and when you bring your eyes back up from your feet it will be gone daddy gone. That is no joke. Don't just believe me, please self verify, and thank me later.

permalink posted by cat 5:09 PM

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can ya still call it foraging when you're 15 feet from your porch?