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Black Raspberries: The Prickly Pride Of The Forest
By Nancy K. Crevier
I am not a hunter, but the gatherer in me comes out this time of year. My evening walks take me past several patches of black raspberries, and generous songbirds have blessed our backyard with several black raspberry canes randomly strewn about our property. From the time the first white blossoms appear in the spring, I eagerly anticipate the day when the hard green buttons of fruit will morph to pink, then red, and finally the purplish black color that signals a ripened fruit.
Those days are now, at the height of summer.
Look for black raspberry bushes along country roadsides and even in shady spots in the woods. Tall, arching canes of reddish-brown, sometimes with a silvery cast, make up the scrubby looking mass that is a black raspberry bush. The stems are covered in barbs up and down the length. The lime green leaves are heavily toothed and each oval leaf comes to a point. At the end of the stem, the berries grow in clusters, and unlike blackberries that pull away from the stem intact, the black raspberry is a hollow fruit when picked. Fully ripened black raspberries are a deep, dark purple with no trace of red or green on the berry, andÂ may even have a slight bluish cast. Blackberries and black raspberries can be used interchangeably in recipes, and one is as delicious as the other.
Picking black raspberries is a challenge on several levels. The most obvious detriment to foraging for the woodland fruit are the vicious thorns that adorn the arching canes. A long sleeved shirt and sturdy jeans will offer some protection as you step through the brambles (because the perfect berry is always just out of reach), but fingers may have to tough it out. Any glove heavy enough to prevent pricking is going to be too clumsy to allow picking.
The other thing I have noticed about wild black raspberries is that they love to grow among the equally prickly barberry bushes, and it is not uncommon for the winding vines of poison ivy to weave between the canes. A precautionary application of a product like Technu is not a bad idea when stalking the wild berry.
Beware, as well, of hornets, that on a hot summer day may be attracted to any sweet, mashed berries lying on the ground.
Still, with a sharp eye and a willingness to suffer some, a half pint of tangy black raspberries can be quickly plucked from the stems in a short time. And like the other summer berries that are now plentiful, wild black raspberries combine well with plums, peaches and nectarines, all in season from regional locations.
When protected by the thorns in the wild, the black raspberry puts on a good face of being a tough guy. But once picked, the berry turns out to be a tenderfoot, and perishes quickly if not refrigerated or put to good use (like, over the lips and through the gumsâ€¦.) within a day.
The best and easiest way to serve black raspberries, in my opinion, is straight from the palm of your hand to your tongue. When still warm from the sun and as fresh as they ever will be, it is the optimum way to appreciate this gift from nature.
If any of the berries do make it home uneaten, they should be quickly rinsed under a gentle spray of cold water before using. If they are to be stored, do not wash the berries before refrigerating in a tightly covered container.
Toss washed berries with a little bit of organic cane sugar or honey, a dash of a fruit liquor such as Chambord, Marie Brizard, or Cheri Suisse and serve with a small amount of lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for a super simple dessert.
Black raspberries also make an excellent cobbler, or mixed with nectarines or peaches, a delicious pie or crisp filling. Sprinkle raw black raspberries over a salad of mixed greens and feta cheese, or include them in the next batch of whole grain pancakes. AÂ handful of black raspberries is a welcome addition to granola, and the truly ambitious gatherer and cook can make a fabulous jelly from the fruit of the black raspberry.
Do not hesitate once you discover an unsprayed patch of black raspberries. The season is not long, and birds and wildlife are just as eager for berry season as any human.
And remember, no pain, no gain.
This margarita recipe from the July 2007 issue of Bon Appetit will certainly take the pain out of any pricked fingers suffered gathering wild black raspberries.
16 large fresh blackberries (or black raspberries), divided
4 small fresh thyme sprigs, divided
6 tablespoons 100% blue agave silver tequila
Â¼ C simple syrup*
3 Tbs fresh lime juice
1 Tbs Cointreau or other orange liqueur
2 C ice cubes, divided
1/4Â C chilled sparkling wine
Place 14 blackberries and two thyme sprigs in medium bowl. Press firmly on solids with muddler or back of wooden spoon until mashed. Mix in tequila, simple syrup, lime juice, and Cointreau, then 1 cup ice. Stir to blend well. Strain into large glass measuring cup. Mix in sparkling wine. Divide remaining ice between two tall glasses. Pour Margarita mixture over. Garnish each with one blackberry and one thyme sprig.
*Simple Syrup: Combine three cups of water and three cups sugar in medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for three to five minutes. Pour hot syrup into a bowl, cool, and refrigerate, covered. The syrup should keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Make a delicious iced palate refresher with the rest of the simple syrup and black raspberries:
Black Raspberry Sorbet
In a food processor with the steel blade, process 5 cups fresh, rinsed black raspberries and Â¼ cup simple syrup until smooth. It is not necessary to strain out the tiny seeds, but if you want a perfectly smooth mixture, strain the puree through cheesecloth.
Mix in one cup of simple syrup and freeze in an electric ice cream maker according to directions. Pour into a container and freeze for about one hour before serving. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and additional fresh black raspberries or other seasonal berries.