Sep 10, 2018

Head: Summer Berries

Sub: Wild black raspberries and mulberries

By Lawanda Jungwirth

 

It’s already too late to harvest raspberries and mulberries this year, but it’s never too early to be on the lookout for them so you’re ready with your picking bucket next year!

First, I should tell you I had this column all written and was doing some final checking of research when I learned that what I always call “wild blackberries” are actually wild black raspberries. Apparently it’s a regional thing to call them blackberries, which may have stemmed from them first being called “black-caps.”

I don’t know how far “my” region extends, but in case you don’t live near me, I’ll call them wild black raspberries here. In real life, I’ll continue to call them blackberries so people around here don’t think I’m putting on airs. For future reference, here’s how you tell the difference: when you pick blackberries – as well as mulberries, by the way – the stem comes with the berry. When you pick raspberries of any color, the berry removes from the stem leaving a hollow core inside the berry.

 

Sub: Wild black raspberries

You’ll find wild black raspberries along sunny roadsides and trails and at the edges of wooded areas and pastures. You’ve heard the term “bramble,” right? It means a thorny or prickly vine or shrub, and usually refers to blackberries and raspberries. When searching for black raspberry bushes, you’ll probably first notice them in spring as impenetrable thickets of arching stems blooming with clumps of white flowers easily spotted from a distance. Long canes of up to five feet in length arch and trail toward the ground.

Flowers develop on canes that grew last year and when they eventually turn to red and then black berries in mid-summer, next year’s canes are already growing and interfering with picking with their newly sharp prickles. Leaves are compound, with three-toothed, oval leaflets each.

Harvest time is late June through July, depending on the weather and rainfall. Black raspberry fruits are red before they are ripe, and dark purple when they are ready to pick, leading to the expression, "black raspberries are red when they're green.”

Each cluster of berries may contain as many as 20, but they don’t ripen all at once. It’s typical to find only one or two ripe berries at the center of each cluster early in the season. Later in the season you may find four or five ripe berries per cluster. You’ll know which berries are ripe because they’ll be plump, dark and slip easily from the stem. If you have to tug at all on the berry, it’s not ready to be picked.

By the next day, one or two more berries will be ready for picking in each cluster. Don’t worry – each plant will have so many clusters of berries that you’ll be able to pick your fill. Squat down and look under the leaves to find even more. Often the biggest berries are hidden underneath. Harvest season lasts several weeks, depending on the weather.

Black raspberry picking isn’t the most pleasant task unless there’s a nice breeze, cool temperature, and the canes are on a hillside in front of you at waist level or higher. Otherwise, you’ll battle mosquitoes, deerflies, and heat and do lots of bending and reaching. It’s all worth it though when you come home with enough for a pie!

Black raspberries contain omega-3 and omega-6 fats, protein, carotenoids, ellagitannins, and ellagic acid, vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C, E, K, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and zinc. They are a good source of amino acids and essential dietary fiber and contain no cholesterol.

With all that good stuff in them, black raspberries have many benefits for the body. They promote digestive health, immune system defense, healthy functioning of the heart, and prevention of cancer. They provide benefits including memory enhancement, weight management, strong bones, clear healthy skin, improved vision, disease-free eyes, and normal blood clotting.

 

Sub: Mulberries

Contrary to the song you may remember from childhood, mulberries don’t grow on bushes – they grow on trees. The best way to identify a mulberry tree is to look for “blackberries on a tree.” Mulberry trees are the only thing in North America that looks like that.

Mulberries are a sweet, hanging fruit about an inch in length. You likely won’t notice the mulberry tree when it is in flower, but it may catch your eye as the initially green and then white berries begin to turn light pink. Berries grow quickly when they are young, but then it seems to take forever until they turn red, then dark red, and finally a deep, dark purple at which time they are ready to pick.

Mulberry trees are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves every autumn. They can grow up to 50 feet tall. There are male mulberry trees and female mulberry trees. Only the female trees produce fruit, but oddly, mulberry trees can change their sex mid-life.

Along with gender identity issues, mulberries seem to be confused as to how their leaves should look. Sometimes the leaves are pointed ovals, at times they are slightly heart-shaped, sometimes they have three lobes, and on occasion they are mitten-shaped. No matter their shape, they are always shiny on top and dull underneath and have finely-toothed edges.

Mulberries ripen in mid-summer and are ready to pick when the berries are black or dark purple. If the tree is young, spread a sheet or tarp on the ground under the tree and shake it, causing the berries to fall. Older trees might require a ladder or step stool to reach the branches. My own mulberry tree is quite the challenge to pick from. The branches are high off the ground and hang over the river. I stand on the riverbank and use my garden hoe to hook the branches and lower them to within reach. I place a 32-ounce yogurt container in the pocket of a tool belt tied around my waist so both hands are free – one to hold the hoe and one to pick the berries. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

Berries ripen over a period of several weeks, but if enough branches are within reach, you’ll get more than enough berries in one go for whatever use you plan for them.

Mulberries contain iron, riboflavin, vitamins C and K, potassium, phosphorous and calcium. They also contain a significant amount of dietary fiber and organic compounds, including phytonutrients, zeaxanthin, resveratrol, anthocyanins, lutein and various polyphenolic compounds.

The health benefits of mulberries include their ability to improve digestion, lower cholesterol, aid in weight loss, increase circulation, build bone tissue, boost the immune system, prevent certain cancers, slow down the aging process, lower blood pressure, and protect the eyes.

 

Sub: Storage and eating

Berries should be refrigerated as soon as possible after picking if you haven’t already eaten all of them by the time you get home. Store black raspberries in shallow, covered containers as they are fragile and the bottom ones will squish if the container is too deep. Mulberries are a bit sturdier and can handle deeper containers. Do not rinse berries until just before eating. They should be consumed within a few days.

To freeze for later use, rinse the berries with cool water and freeze them in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. Once frozen, place them in plastic zipped freezer bags.

Black raspberries and mulberries are great sprinkled on cereal or fruit salads, made into jam, jellies, syrup, preserves, cobbler, tarts, pie, fruit salsa or wine. They can be added to pancake, muffin or cake batter or crushed and mixed with a little sugar and water to make a topping for ice cream. Both mulberries and wild black raspberries can be substituted for other berries in any recipe.

 

Sub: A few cautions

• Mulberries can lower blood sugar levels, which is dangerous for some people. There are rare cases of allergies to mulberry, so eat them in moderation the first time.

• Both mulberries and black raspberries are high in vitamin K, which plays a role in blood clotting. If you are on blood thinning medication such as aspirin or warfarin, do not over-indulge on the berries.

• Don’t wear good clothing when picking mulberries or black raspberries. They will stain your hands and clothing.

• Wear long sleeves, long pants and closed shoes when picking black raspberries. The prickles will rip your skin to shreds.

• Unripe mulberries contain a white sap that may be toxic, stimulating or mildly hallucinogenic. Don’t eat unripe berries anyway – they’ll taste awful.

• No fruits remotely resembling mulberries or black raspberries are poisonous. Still, it’s a good idea to use a field guide to correctly identify the fruits.

 

Separate scattered profile boxes: RECIPES

 

WILD BLACK RASPBERRY COBBLER

 

2 1/2 c. fresh or frozen (thawed and drained) black raspberries 

1 c. sugar 

1 c. flour 

2 t. baking powder 

½ t. salt 

1 c. milk 

1/2 c. butter, melted 

Cream, whipped cream or ice cream, if desired 

 

In medium bowl, stir together berries and sugar. Let stand about 20 minutes or until fruit syrup forms. Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt and milk. Stir in melted butter until blended. Spread in ungreased 8-inch square pan. Spoon berry mixture over batter. Bake 45 to 55 minutes or until dough rises and is golden. Serve warm with cream.

 

WILD BLACK RASPBERRY PIE

 

Pastry for two-crust pie

3/4 c. sugar 

3 T. flour 

1 t. ground cinnamon 

1/8 t. salt 

4 c. fresh black raspberries 

1 T. lemon juice 

2 T. butter 

 

Use store-bought crusts or use your favorite pastry crust recipe to make two pie crusts. Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt. Mix with the berries. Place berry filling in an unbaked pie crust. Sprinkle with lemon juice and dot with butter or margarine. Cover with upper crust and crimp edges. Bake 30 to 40 minutes.

 

MULBERRY SORBET

 

5 c. washed fresh or frozen mulberries 

1 T. elderberry elixir (optional)

1 c. sugar

1/4 c. water

Ice cream maker

 

Boil water and sugar together in a saucepan until sugar melts. Puree mulberries and add to melted sugar and stir well. Chill in refrigerator 6 hours. Pour into ice cream maker and follow the maker’s directions for making sorbet. Let set in freezer for an hour before serving.

 

MULBERRY JAM

 

2 1/2 c. mulberries, rinsed (stems do not need to be removed)

1 1/2 c. granulated sugar

3 T. water

 

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium heat, combine mulberries, sugar and water. Bring to a boil, boil for one minute; then lower to simmer. Cook fruit, stirring occasionally, until foam subsides and mixture thickens slightly, about 7 minutes. Using a ladle, carefully transfer hot jam to sterilized canning jars. Wipe mouths of jars clean and screw on lids tightly. Let cool at room temperature for at least 8 hours before using. Makes two half-pint jars. Jam will keep indefinitely at room temperature. Once opened, refrigerate and use within about three weeks.