Friday, July 8, 2011

Black Raspberries & Urban Foraging

Black Raspberries on Bush
Brenna and I went foraging for raspberries on Wednesday, in a local park. I'd seen the raspberry bushes on walks/runs earlier in the season, and while searching for mulberries. The park is, unfortunately, regularly sprayed for mosquitoes--I can find the schedule on the city website, which I suppose is handy--and round-up is clearly used on the grass next to the paths. That being said, this park also has restored prairie and woodland, since it's along a stream.

Foraged Raspberries in a Bowl
The raspberry bushes were at the edge of the park, near a large golf course, and tucked under the trees. I'd expected red raspberries, but as we approached, I could see tons of black raspberries on the bushes. I should note here, the raspberry bushes near my childhood home were small red raspberries (and most years these bushes received a spectrum of herbicides soon after they flowered). The difference between black and red raspberries? Black raspberries have pricklier stems--terrific, since we didn't take gloves (but we'll know better next time) and they taste different. To me, black raspberries have less of a "raspberry" flavor, in that it's a subtler flavor. And of course, when they're ripe, they're not red.

For me, the act of foraging, especially urban foraging, is cathartic. There's something about the repeated motion necessary to harvest berries (or cherries, or apples, the only things I've urban harvested so far) that makes me feel grounded and focused. And going with a friend helps too--there's someone to talk to, someone to commiserate with when you get cut/scratched or when the food supply is low. But there's also someone to celebrate small victories with, which is something we probably all need a little more of--someone who will celebrate our small victories with us, someone who can appreciate little beauties.

Brenna's Jar of Berries
Brenna and I didn't collect nearly as many black raspberries as we did mulberries, when we went with Annie, but we collected enough to snack on, or throw over ice cream, or in the next morning's cereal. We probably even had enough to do something like a black raspberry muffin, or something similar. But we wanted to be sure we could taste the berries.

And there are more berries that'll be ready to forage in a few days. Berries, that even including the time I'll spend harvesting them, are cheaper than what I'd buy in the store and I know exactly when they were picked and where they came from. I'll have purple stains on my fingers to prove it.

Another thing I like about urban foraging--here I define the term as the act of finding wild edibles in the cracks and at the edges of built environments, though it can also refer to other types of gleaning--is that it feels slightly illicit, though I know it's not (that being said, in many places you can get chased away by residents or the police--I'm surprised it hasn't happened to me in this town; it's happened other places). A few years ago (2009) this trend was trendy. A quick Google search for "urban foraging" begins with a series of blog and news stories about urban foraging (and guerrilla gardening, a topic for a different post) dated in 2009. TIME magazine, however, just wrote an article  about urban foraging--mostly about New York. But it brings up some good points: know the history of the land you're foraging from. Know what you're eating isn't poisonous. If you're not sure, you shouldn't eat it.

In some cities, there are urban foraging groups you can join--or even tours you can take. Or, just seek out a book on urban foraging or even just wild, edible plants. In this state, spring brings ditch asparagus and dandelion. Summer brings sunflowers, berries, and day lilies gone rogue. Fall brings wild apples. And these are just the common plants most people know and can recognize.

On a semi-related note: Brenna, who grew up in Florida where many things are poisonous, often asks if creatures here are poisonous. When I tell her no, she eagerly picks them up. We found this little guy on one of the raspberry bushes, where we returned him soon after (yes, I've gendered the caterpillar). I believe this caterpillar is an Isabella Tiger Moth in the making--a "woolly bear"--despite the fact that these aren't commonly seen until the first frost. So, if you know differently, you should definitely correct me.

Isabella Tiger Moth Caterpillar on Brenna's Purple-Stained Finger

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