Foraging for Jewel Berries

We camped for a night last week at Greenbrier State Park in western Maryland, close to Virginia and West Virginia. Justin very much wanted to camp just the three of us this summer. We are going later with my family, but that may involve many things to do and a little bit of chaos, in spite of the fun times that are sure to be had. So I cooked and packed, and Justin packed and loaded, and Evelyn flitted around and made messes. We arrived at 10:30 am on Thursday, stayed through the following afternoon, and then visited Harper's Ferry in West Virginia before heading home on Friday evening. It was a quick trip, but so worth the effort. We relaxed, we swam, we hiked, we ran, we built a fire, made s'mores, watched fireflies, and loved every minute of being outside.

A major perk of Greenbrier State Park, and this whole area of Maryland, really, is that in July, there are wild raspberries. Everywhere. I was ecstatic. They were along the pathways, in the woods, at the side of the road. I made it my mission to pick every ripe berry I could find. When I closed my eyes I saw raspberries. I became a little obsessed.

If you have ever gone regular berry picking, you probably know that it is slow work. It is not as fast or rewarding as peach picking or apple picking. Those berries, it's no wonder they are so expensive in stores, because they take a long time to pick. Hot, sweaty. But if you've picked wild raspberries, it is even more work. There are no neat rows of berry bushes. There are scratchy canes to pick through and around. My ankles and forearms have red scratches all over them. And some bushes are buried under vines that need to be lifted up and torn away.

The reward, however, is free berries. Totally worth it. Upon arriving home, I was delighted to discover even more berries, right in my city of Baltimore. Across the street from the pool, near the 83 on-ramp down the hill, over the guard rail, and alongside the Jones Falls trail. I put a large empty container in my back pack, thinking it was way too big to fill, and hopped on my bike while Justin took Evelyn to the zoo. I picked for about two hours. Oh, the sweat poured off my face and drenched my shirt. Why did I wear flip flops? Sneakers would have offered better traction to climb the slippery, steep slope and gingerly push my arm through the thorny canes to pluck those perfect, red jewel berries almost out of reach.

The thing about wild raspberries is that they are a little bit smaller and a little more tart than store bought raspberries. I like them better. If the berry is not perfectly ripe, it does not come off the bud easily, and you know to leave it alone. If it is too ripe, it disintegrates, one dark red globe at a time. The perfect berries are somewhere in between.

I like to think of them as jewel berries, because they are so precious to come by, they are delicate, they are worth the hard work of getting them. And they shine like jewels.

Some of them we just eat. Some turned into jam, and others we froze, which will be saved away until berry season is long gone, and we pop them into pancakes for a Saturday morning breakfast when the air is chilly outside. It is strange to think of that now, as I sit here, still sweaty from berry picking, still relishing my hard work and triumph of foraging free jewel berries. 

To Freeze Berries

Wash, air dry for a bit, and spread on a baking sheet so that they don't touch each other. Freeze, then pour into a freezer bag. You may need to do this in batches.

Old Fashioned Raspberry Jam

Here's what else has been cooking in my kitchen:

- Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

- Fennel and Smoked Salmon Pasta

- Pesto

- Quinoa Tabbouleh

I'm loving the summer produce. Thanks for reading, and have a great week.