Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Passing of the Wild Black Raspberry

I especially like black raspberries or blackcaps as my grandma called them. One of the things I loved about staying at my grandparents’ northern Michigan farm in the summers was picking and eating berries, especially blackcaps. Grandma and I would go to the woods to pick blackcaps. Grandpa had a more agricultural approach. He planted a large variety of raspberries - red, black and purple. I liked to help him pick those, too! I don’t know how much they appreciated my help though. I had a tendency to eat a good bit of what I picked.

On our West Virginia farm, I have educated my husband and son to not mow down the berries – black raspberries, blackberries and elderberries. It is to their benefit also, since they like jams, pies and homemade wine.

This has been a good year for berries. I haven’t been able to pick berries for several years, so I was eager to pick the black raspberries around our home. Then I went to look around the neighborhood for more. My husband and son had been telling me that there were lots of berries on the ridge. I was very disappointed that I could hardly find any wild black raspberries other than at home. There were quite a few blackberries waiting to ripen. And there were these weird hairy red brambles, that I didn’t recognize.

My son had picked some strange shiny, sticky raspberries by his cabin last summer, that we never did identify. Well, the black raspberries were almost done and the blackberries were starting to ripen. The guys said there were lots of berries on the ridge and went to pick them. They came back in a short time with at least a gallon of berries - strange shiny, sticky raspberries. Mind you, when I was picking black raspberries, I never did get at least 2 quarts at a time so I could make jam. They told me that there were huge patches of these berries all over the ridge. I was happy to have some raspberries, but worried about what had happened to the wild black raspberries.

It was time to investigate. After some diligent web searching, I was able to identify the strange berries as wineberries. I was also alarmed to discover that they are an invasive pest from Asia. They are displacing native species. With the explosive growth in our neighborhood in the last few years, they have displaced the wild black raspberry. The only reason I was able to pick them this year is because I love them and have encouraged their growth around my home. I can remember huge patches of wild black raspberries thirty years ago, where I could pick gallons over hours. Patches were closely guarded secrets. Now they are nonexistent.

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  1. Hi Gail! Thanks for the interesting info. I haven't seen any wineberries on our farm, but I will certainly be keeping an eye out for them.

    Here, the black raspberries had a very good year.

  2. Very interesting, Gail. We are going to see more invasive species, due to the spread of seed thru increased world trade, habitat disruption, and climate change, all due to people. It's happening all around me in southern California.

    On the bright side, Katie and I are keeping bees now, and have taken our first honey.

  3. Thanks for your comments. It's nice to hear from you, Joe & Sara.

  4. I am an AVID berry picker. Haven't seen any of the wineberries yet, but I do know that the raspberries and blackberries were both running about two weeks early this year, probably because we had such hot weather this spring. I got quite a few raspberries, but they were done by the 4th of July. I can't tell you how many years I spent part of the day on the 4th picking the raspberries. Hope this helps.

  5. I’m glad to know about the wineberry invasion. They sell them at the farmers market in Weston.
    My blueberry patch is doing well this year. Thanks to the mesh cover to keep the birds from them.

  6. We too know about wineberries and there are lots and lots of them here in Winchester, as well as black raspberries. You might want to combine them with the black ones when making a cobbler or pie. They make the taste brighter and a little more tart than blackberries alone!

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  8. Yes it is a shame that this has taken over the fruit, that so many people enjoy! We haven't seen any of it, in GA, but the only thing we have in the back, is blackberries, and very few of them.

  9. Living in Pa. we picked wild raspberries every year. They were in season around the 4th of July. Darlene and Donnie lived next to railroad tracks and they always picked alot of berries. By that time, I was not living in Pa.,but she would freeze them and give me some when I visited.

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  11. I think the best wild blackberry jam comes from a very small blackberry that are not found in large numbers that ripens weeks before the other. They are higher in acid and are not the best at all for eating fresh but do they ever make the best jam. We see them here and there in Western Washington.