Hullo! Last time I started talking about how to get food for FREE and what to do when you get it! This time I’ll be talking about berries.
Berries are EXPENSIVE in the store. They are fragile and short-lived and delicious. So how can you get your hands on a bushel of berries for NOTHING? Pick them yourself! Picking berries or any wild food is so rewarding. I have long been enamored with foraging, identifying and harvesting food you find in your neighborhood or in a park or on the side of the road. There’s something very freeing and satisfying about not relying on anyone else to provide food for you. I’ve always wanted to be the sort of person who could survive in the wild on my own with what I rustle up myself.
The reality of this is that I’m usually too much of a wuss to eat anything I find.
And that’s actually probably true of most people. It’s SCARY to eat a thing you find in the woods. The store labels things with bright colors and fancy fonts that say, “Eat me! I’m safe!” But a leaf growing from the ground says, “Maybe I’m safe! Maybe your tongue will swell and your skin will erupt in rashes!” Fortunately, most edible berries are very easy to find, identify, and enjoy, without fear of death.
Now I’m sure that many people don’t live where berries flourish on highway on-ramps and in every empty field, but I’m very grateful that I do. Here in Washington, my very favorite berry, the blackberry, grows and prospers just about everywhere. And I mean everywhere. On roadsides, empty lots, in parks, and pretty much anywhere you don’t want them. Towards the end of summer big, juicy clusters of purpley-black berries hang for the pickin’ anywhere you go. I refuse to buy blackberries in the store because there are SO MANY you can pick yourself with just a little effort! If you happen to live where you can pick your own blackberries, you definitely should. Just stay away from spots they might be really contaminated, like the freeway on-ramp. Parks, ball fields, and quiet roads are usually good spots.
Once you have all your delicious berries, what can you do with them? Eat them fresh and warm off the vine while picking them! But if you can restrain yourself, blackberries are excellent in pies, crisps, crumbles, and cobblers. I won’t post a recipe because I never use the same one. I probably should narrow it down to a favorite, but I usually look one up in the moment. Pick your dessert of choice, and go for it.
Blackberries make excellent jam. If you don’t mind the crunchiness of seed wild berries, just make your jam as you usually would. You can also seed them if you like to make more of a jelly. Last year I made a spiced blackberry jam, and this year we experimented with jalapeno blackberry. It’s really good, but we wimped out on the jalapenos a little. It could have used more heat. We also made a bunch of blackberry syrup, which I talked about in this post: Farm Fresh Italian Sodas and a Sad Farewell. AND of course. Spiced blackberry brandy: Yummy Yummy Spiced Blackberry Brandy Cordial . I didn’t get to drink any of the cordial last summer when I was pregnant but oooh is it ever good. Of course you can also freeze some berries so in the dead of winter you can have a taste of summer sunshine.
If you have oodles of patience and live where they grow, huckleberries usually spring up in a lot of easily accessible places too. What is a huckleberry? They are similar to a blueberry, but smaller. Some are dark and shiny, and others are lighter and a dusty blue. What they all are is a pain to pick. They are little, so it takes a long time to fill a bucket. Plus often there aren’t very many ripe ones in a cluster, and it’s easier to strip the cluster than pick the individual ones out, but then you have to sort them later… it’s a mess. However, it is FREE FOOD, and they are very very tasty. I found that they are great in pancakes because they hold their shape a little better that blueberries. They add a sweet-tart pop to the pancake. They also freeze really well and do good in the above-mentioned desserts on their own or mixed with another berry.
Where we live salal also grows prolifically, and apparently you can eat salal berries, which I never knew before this summer. I found a recipe for some fruit leather, where you mix salal berries with other berries, and the salal helps it stay fresh longer. Or something. Perhaps next summer I’ll experiment with that. This winter I’ll just sip my cordial and some Italian sodas, and plan for next years berry harvest.
Next time in the free food series I’ll talk about apples, pears, and one other surprising food you might have growing in your yard right now!