Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book Review - Wild Berries and Fruits: Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan

We own several great books about foraging and mushrooming, and are often asked which are our favorites. I will try to spend the non-productive winter months reviewing some of these great resources, and making recommendations. Most of these books are available on Amazon, some are available directly from the author as signed copies, some from the publisher, and many we get used from Alibris.
This is the book I reach for most often when presented with a ripe berry or fruit I am unfamiliar with. It covers a 3-state region in the upper midwest, but many of the fruits and berries found there are also found here in southern New England. This is my book of choice because of how it is organized: by the color of the berry or fruit. This simple, visual way of putting the book together makes for fast reference, and the overall small dimensions (4 1/2" x 6") of the book make it easy to carry out into the field.

Wild Berries and Fruits: Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan  by Teresa Marrone

Photo of book coverThe identification process starts with the berry or fruit color, easily referenced and arranged by colors on a tab in the upper, left corner of each page. Other icons along the top of the text page include type of plant (is it a shrub, a tender leafy plant, a vine), how the leaves are arranged (whorled, alternate, opposite), the season when the berry or fruit is ripe, and a small map of distribution. The text then goes on to describe the habitat, growth, leaves, fruit, and season for the specimen, along with some look-a-likes and additional notes. The entire right page is a color photo of the plant, usually including leaves and ripe fruit, sometimes including a small, inset photo of the unripe fruit. Common and Latin names are given for each specimen. As a forager, the most important piece of information is the edibility of the fruit or berry, and that is clearly noted with an additional band next to the color tab indicating whether the specimen is edible, not edible, delicious, or toxic.

Photo of internal pages

leaves, stems, flowers
As an example, let's look at the strawberry pages. You find yourself a small, red berry out in a sunny field at your feet. Using the book, you start by looking in the red section, looking at the colored tabs on the upper left page. Use the large, color photos on the right page to find a plant that looks like the plant in front of you. Now use the clearly written text to verify the plant. The leaves section will describe coarsely toothed trifolate leaves on the end of a long fuzzy stem. The fruit section describes a heart-shaped fruit, and some of the visual differences between two different species of strawberry that may have been found. Check to see that your seasonal ripeness matches with what is described, and observe the habitat the plant is growing in. Read about any possible look-a-likes in the compare section, and read the additional notes that may describe the flavor of the strawberry. Also notice the additional band on the upper left corner, denoting that the wild strawberry is delicious. Using the additional ID information in the fruit section, I can positively identify the strawberries we found and photographed as Fragaria virginiana. Yum!

Also in this book is the useful introduction in the front. The terms used in the book are described, such as types of fruit (berries, drupes, pommes) and how the fruits are arranged (raceme, cluster, umbel). A calendar is included that shows when each fruit or berry is ripe. There is also an excellent desciption on how to use the book, taking you through all of the steps to identify and verify a plant. At the back of the book is a glossary of the botanical terms used throughout the book, an alphabetical index of the fruits and berries, and two pages of additional resources, such as websites and books.

Teresa Marrone has written several comparable books for 2 other geographical regions: Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, and for Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. Depending on where you are located, you may be able to get a book better suited to your region. Teresa Marrone has also written several books on cooking with the berries and fruits of those geographical regions, along with books on cooking other wild edibles, game cooking, using a slow cooker, and camp cooking. A biography of her and her work can be found here.


Trout Caviar said...

Great to see this review of Teresa's book! She's a good friend of mine, a fine writer, one of our true authorities on wild foods, and an extremely kind and generous person to boot. I agree with you wholeheartedly on the excellence of the wild fruit books. I go to my copy all the time. I hope you've gotten a copy of "Abundantly Wild," her magnum opus. It changed the way I look at the woods, and in doing so changed what appears on my table.

One technical note--this post looks fine on my phone, but on my home computer the text all the way down to "The identification process starts..." appears in one single vertical line of type, one letter on top of the other, down the left side of the screen, and the whole right side is blank. Then there's a picture of the book cover at left, text on the right, and it's fine. Maybe it's just me.

I'm sending a link to the post along to Teresa. I don't know if she's aware of your blog, but I know she'll like it when she sees it--not just the review, the whole deal!

Cheers~ Brett

The 3 Foragers said...

I am not seeing the odd arrangement of text that you are seeing, I am sorry! I did send her an email to ask her if she was planning on doing a book on the fruits and berries of New England (our actual area) and she did respond with a lovely email letting me know she had just wrapped up her books on the Rocky Mountain area, and had no plans for New England yet. Teresa seems like a nice woman, and we do have plans to purchase more of her books. Karen