“Mama More Berries!”

Black Cap Raspberry custard tarts from my days baking at the Scorcher.
Black Cap Raspberry Custard Tarts from my days baking at the Scorcher.

If you haven’t noticed before I am fairly obsessed with berries, enough so that my firstborn son uttered his first sentence about them.  All the wild berries are frankly one of the best parts of living in the Northwest.  They are like jewels, filled with vitamins and a microcosm of yum.  I love them all, even the bitter tart of the Oregon Grape. ( That would be Mahonia aquifolium, if you are at all interested.) The evening I went into labor with Sam, nearly 18 years ago, Joe and I had gone for a walk and picked the first blackberries of that season. Thereby designating Sam as my blackberry baby. Friday on my way to work I foraged and ate nearly a quart of berries. It was my breakfast. I could nearly hear the bacteria in my gut celebrating.  The berries are all early this year, and I can’t wait till there are enough to pick for Blackberry Oxymel and to make blackberry wine and blackberry jam.

I remember as a kid braving poison ivy to pick little wild strawberries at the northeast corner of our property. I think it was technically on the Keleto’s land, on the top of the same hill we liked to sled down in winter. My mother likes to relate the story of having picked blackberries as a kid, and hating every minute of it, though she does love blackberry jam.  I don’t remember ever seeing blackberries in Michigan. We did eat mulberries, June berries, and if we were lucky in the cold months, wintergreen berries. I learned in school about how the Dread Tree disease White Pine Blister Rust was dependent on wild gooseberry and currant bushes to spread, and as such it was illegal to plant those in Michigan. The berry scene had its ups and downs.

Berries in the morning sun on my walk to work.
Berries in the morning sun on my walk to work.

Oregon is another story. Here there are soo many berries.

First there are the bright orange Salmon Berries, whose arrival often coincides with the chinook salmon run. Then the thimble berries, like tiny bright red fairy yarmulkes, then an onslaught so generous it is hard to keep track of. Strawberries both wild and cultivated, the tiny delicious trailing wild native blackberries, wild black cap raspberries, salal berries, Oregon grape, raspberries, red, blue and  evergreen huckleberries, wild currents and gooseberries, two varieties of invasive blackberry that are like the Kudzu of the Northwest, elderberries red and blue, high bush cranberries, hawthorn berries… It is amazing.

Any consideration of health lets you know that berries are packed with goodness. All that color is powerful, the vitamins are legion. Berries aside, most of them are also medicinal plants in any season. Oregon grape root is the goldenseal of the west, and elderflowers are a powerful tool against colds and flu.

Then there is the deeply satisfying process of foraging, whether breathing in the smells of the forest and the earth, or sweating in the sun picking sticky thorny blackberries in long sleeves and pants. Berries very much are equal to bliss in my book.

If you must know, studies show that berries are anti-cancer as well. (Read more about how that works here. ) Which just goes to show that things that are good for you can be wonderful.  So seriously people this is berry season, which means it is time to eat a lot of berries. “Mama More Berries!”

A recipe to inspire…. it is tasty, good for you, healing and easy to make.

Raw Blackberry Oxymel

  • 1 quart of perfect blackberries.
  • 1 1/2 cups -ish organic raw apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup honey, approximately, preferably raw
  1. Pick a quart of perfectly ripe blackberries. The berry will still be white or green at the attachment point to the stem.  When you eat one it will be sweet/tart. Bring them home. place them into a clean quart jar- they will all be perfect – no need to wash them. You will make sure no bugs or spiders who may have hitched a ride home go into the jar.
  2. Pour raw applecider vinegar over to cover. Cover and let sit for a week or more.
  3. Mash the berries and press through a fine mesh sieve to remove all seeds.
  4. Add honey to the blackberry juice/vinegar and stir until honey is dissolved. taste it. if it is unpleasantly tart to you, add more honey.
  5. Pour into the bottles you will store it in, place in the refrigerator. (Alternatively you can freeze it in ice cube trays to make one serving portions.)
  6. To use add to hot water and drink if you feel a cold coming on or to treat a cold. Use approximately 1 Tablespoon per Cup. Also good for the winter blues. It is delicious.

 

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