Monday, July 26, 2010

Foraging Report 07/24/2010

The extreme heat this summer has affected the ripening season of gardens, farms, and wild edibles. Orchards picking peaches in July? It has been berry crazy around here, and by that I mean wineberries and blackberries. It has been so awfully hot, we have not made it out to look for wild blueberries or huckleberries since the wineberries and blackberries are easier to gather in quantity than the much smaller blueberries.

We managed to stumble across a incredibly large patch of wineberries close to our house this year. We used to take a full day and drive to Redding, Connecticut to the Collis P Huntington State Park where the main trail is lined with wineberry thickets. Pretty much all of Redding is infested with wineberry canes, and you can spot them easily from the car while driving down the winding residential streets. This year we stuck close to home, and probably came away with 8 gallons of berries in 3 picking trips. I froze 8 quart bags of berries to eat in the winter, made 2 batches of jam, 2 sheetpans of fruit leather, and used the remaining juice for popsicles, smoothies, one gallon of peasant wine, and drank some plain for breakfast.

Our regular local blackberry patch which is located on a patch of conservation land was cut in the early spring, so what has proceeded to grow this season has been all first-year canes. There have been no flowers, and no fruit. If the berry patch is not cut in autumn or next spring, the harvest next year should be huge. We did manage to pick in an area that was not as aggressively cut, and still came away with about 4 gallons of fruit. That helped us make 2 batches of jam, 2 sheetpans of fruit leather, popsicles, juice, one gallon of peasant wine, and provided plenty of berries to munch on. The blackberries that grow in this patch appear to be an invasive species, probably Himalayan. The berries are much larger than native species, and the leaf arrangement is different. I think the thorns are much thornier, too. Also in this meadow is dewberry, which is a species of blackberry that grows along prickery vines along the ground as opposed to arching canes. These are very small berries, and hide well under their large leaves.

Also this week, we were able to pick some small milkweed pods for our culinary experimentation. Robert gathered small ones, from 1-3 inches long. We boiled then briefly and tried them plain, then added them to assorted dishes and tried other cooking methods. Very tasty!

Also ripening right now are wild black cherries, choke cherries, elderberries, and sumac berries.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Wineberry Recipe - Wineberry Jam and Wineberry Jelly

We managed to pick a very good amount of ripe wineberries in a short amount of time this past Sunday. I think it was about 2 gallons. We will return to this new spot in a few more days to pick again! What did we do with that amount of berries? Jam! Or was it jelly? We used a favorite kitchen toy called the Roma Food Strainer and Sauce Maker that we purched last year to process tomatoes and foraged berries and fruits. We also bought the berry screen, and it removes about 95% of the seeds from a wineberry or blackberry. What we get is a thick, pulpy juice.
I then followed the instructions on the package of low-sugar Sure*Jell for raspberries for making cooked jam. We had so much pulpy juice (about 12 cups), that we made a second batch of jelly, following the instructions on the package of low-sugar Sure*Jell for cooked jelly.

Both batches jelled just fine. The jelly recipe is a bit sweeter, and I think I prefer the tartness of the jam recipe. I just wasn't sure which recipe to use, since we deseeded the berries, but did not clarify the juice for a true jelly. Either way, the jelly/jam is cloudy and thick, but seedless, tart and sweet at the same time with a brilliant red color.

Wineberry Jam makes 7 cups

5 c. seedless wineberry pulp/juice
4 c. sugar
1 package low-sugar Sure*Jell pectin

1. Mix the pectin with 1/4 c. of the sugar and whisk into the pulp in a large saucepot.
2. Bring the pulp and pectin mix to a rolling boil, and add all of the sugar at once. Bring back to a rolling boil and cook 1 minute.
3. Remove from the heat, skim off the foam and ladel the hot jam into sterilized jars.
Cloudy Wineberry Jelly makes 6 cups

4 1/2 c. seedless wineberry pulp/juice
3 c. sugar
1 box low-sugar Sure*Jell pectin

1. Mix the pectin with 1/4 c. sugar and wisk into the pulp/juice in a large saucepot
2. Bring the pulp/pectin mixture to a rolling boil and add all of the sugar at once. Return the mixture to a rolling boil for one minute.
3. Remove the jelly from the heat, skim the foam from the top, and ladle into sterilized jars.


Wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius) is one of my favorite berries of the year. The flavor is complex, sweet-tart, almost more of an adult berry. It can also be called a Japanese raspberry and jewelberry. Around southern New England, they ripen in mid to late July, but this year we are seeing them early due to a mild spring and the current heat wave

The long canes of the wineberry are covered with reddish purple hairs and thorns. Wineberry thickets are easy to identify even from a distance or a moving car due to the overall reddish coloration of the canes, flower bunches, calyxes, and fruits. The canes will grow up to 10 feet long, and will re-root themselves when they arch over to touch the ground. The leaves are alternate and have 3 parts, each part toothed, usually lobed, and with a pointed tip. The undersides of the papery leaves are silvery-white. Late in spring, inconspicuous white flowers appear in clusters. After the flower passes, the red, hairy calyx lobes will close over the immature berry until it is ready to ripen.

The fruit is thimble shaped, and a yellowish receptacle is left behind on the plant when the berry is picked. The berries are bright red when mature, juicy, and very delicate. They appear glass-like, and have a slightly sticky texture. These berries are fantastic eaten raw, mixed into cereals or granola, or served with yogurt. We have made a brilliantly colored peasant wine with them, and some fantastic seedless jams. We also lay them out in single layers on a sheet pan in the freezer until frozen, then bag the frozen berries for storage all winter. The leaves may be dried to make tisane like other species of raspberries.

Wineberries are considered an invasive species in America, originally coming from eastern Asia and Japan. It was brought to America to breed with raspberries, but escaped into the wild. It grows mainly in the eastern areas of the country, from Canada to North Carolina and west to Michigan. It prefers sunlight and disturbed areas, and grows well along the edges of roads and open fields. Wineberry thickets can crowd out native species, but also provide food and shelter for wildlife.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Foraging Report 07/11/10

The weather has been unbearably hot this past week in the Northeast. We spent plenty of time indoors and at the beach. We only dared to go outside for a bit in the late evenings or early mornings. The hot weather and early spring has forced some wild foods to ripen earlier than expected, so we have been out scouting a lot these two weeks.

While searching for a place to put a new letterboxing series, I suggested an area I was only partially familiar with in Colchester. We did not plant the series since we became totally distracted by the old farm apple trees and American chestnut trees we found. Robert climbed one tree and picked a few green apples to juice, and we will return later in the autumn to gather apples and chestnuts. The American chestnut trees were in bloom, and I noticed the trees by noticing the the old chestnut burrs from last year on the ground. We have a letterbox planted in Waterford for an American chestnut, Foraging American Chestnut.

We observed some staghorn sumacs that were ripening, along with smooth sumacs in flower, and some dwarf sumacs without either. The three varieties in this area have very distinct ripening seasons. Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) has a narrow cluster of berries that ripen in early summer, and a very hairy stem. Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) ripens next, with looser clusters of berries, along with a smooth, hairless stem. The dwarf sumac (Rhus copallina) has the smallest berry cluster, and the midribs between the leaflets are winged. They also ripen later than the other species, usually in August. The only blue diamond letterbox we have so far is the Foraging Sumac box planted in Lebanon near a small stand of smooth sumac.

The hot weather has ripened berries about 2 weeks earlier than expected this year. Black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) have mostly finished for the season. Wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius) are exploding in abundance right now. Early this morning before it got too hot, we went out to a new area I ran across last year to pick, and I suppose we came away with 2 gallons easily. This area is completely taken over by the berry canes, and we had to bushwack through the thicket. Even then, I suppose we only picked in 20% of the area, and we will return in a couple more days for some more berries. These ones are destined for jam! One of the latest berries of the season, blackberries (Rubus alllegheniensis) is also pinking up, and we were able to pick a few tart, black berries. Our usual patch had been cut down early this spring, so we need to find a new spot to gather the bucketloads we usually pick.You can look for two of our berry letterboxes, Foraging Black Raspberry in Norwich, and Foraging Wineberry in Moodus.

Milkweed pods are starting to grow, although most are still only 1/4" long. We will pick them when they reach about and inch or two, and try them boiled. We also went "city foraging" by looking for plums from the ornamental plum trees the city plants along sidewalks and in parking lots. We found our first chokecherry tree, and will keep an eye on it to gather cherries later this summer. We also spied a few wapato plants, although the location is less than ideal to pick from. I suppose we will just observe the plants, watch for blooms, and do some more searching to find a better source. Robert also gathered up some more garlic mustard seeds to use as a spice.

We have no wine fermenting at the moment. The Japanese knotweed wine was filtered into a smaller jug, and I wonder if time will improve it. I thought it had a vegetal quality, and was an odd tasting wine. The dandelion wine is also bottled, and is very strong. The black locust wine was made in a much larger quantity (three gallons vs. our normal one gallon), and about half of it has been bottled for longer term storage. The remaining wine has been chilled and imbibed at a young age, and I thought it was not too bad. Hopefully, we can try a few small batches of berry wines, cherry wines, and soon apple wine.

P.S. World Cup is over, back to foraging! Tomorrow: making wineberry jam!