Black Raspberry Bush

It's berry time.

We are well into fruit season.

A friend in the Richmond area reported that he picked about 8 quarts of black raspberries this June.

It was a wild patch, near a creek at the back of his property, and was fertilized over the winter by bird droppings from a roost in the trees high above.

My wild patch of raspberries, which should be peaking now (my area is about two to three weeks later than Richmond), is not going to amount to much this season. I’m not 100 percent sure why, but I think that May 10 freeze nailed the blooms. The cold hit at almost exactly the wrong time.

If there is any dessert better than homemade black raspberry ice cream, I haven’t found it. I could eat my weight in that stuff. Many people like to use these berries for cobblers, but I prefer the ice cream, which seems to enhance this fruit’s unique taste.

Red raspberries, if you can find a wild patch, are just coming in, at least here in the Piedmont. There are not many of these patches around, but I have spotted some plants on a golf course in Fauquier County.

Just north of Warrenton, along a high road bank on U.S. 17, there is a nice patch of red raspberries and every year I vow to stop and pick some, but I never do, mainly because the traffic is so heavy there.

About five years ago, I found a few plants growing on the lane that leads to my house, but they were cut when the road bank was trimmed. Before they bit the dust, however, I picked about a pint, eating some and throwing the rest into an old fencerow with the hope that they would germinate. They did not.

The biggest patch of red raspberries I have ever seen was along a steeply sloping hillside in mountainous Lee County. My father, who lived in the area at the time, called to invite me down and told me to bring a couple of water buckets.

I was not disappointed. There were numerous patches on about 15 acres that was used for pasture. The cows had made nice paths in the briars, which made for easy picking. I picked enough to make quite a bit of red raspberry jelly.

Red raspberries just don’t have the taste of their black cousins, but they are still good. And the plants don’t have as many thorns, so they are easier to pick.

Two of my favorite fruits—peaches and blackberries—will be getting ripe by mid-July. The May freeze may have cut back on the peach crop in the mountains of Rappahannock and Madison counties, but things still look good. Prices, however, may jump a bit depending on the severity of the loss.

Peaches and blackberries make excellent cobblers. A cup of flour, a cup of sugar, a cup of milk and 2–3 cups of either fruit make for an easy recipe. Cook for about 35–40 minutes (until brown) at 350 degrees and you’ve got some good eating.

Peach ice cream is also one of my favorites. I mash up half my peaches (for color and taste) and put the rest into the mixture in small chunks. Yum, yum.

Blackberries, however, have little taste and do not make good ice cream. For jelly, however, they are great.

A few weeks ago, the road banks and fencerows were white with blackberry blooms, so I am anticipating a bumper crop. Back roads and bushy fields are good places to find blackberry patches. Wear long sleeves when you pick, because the briars will nail you.

I haven’t seen any dewberries in years, but this variety of blackberry, which grows along the ground (as opposed to on tall canes) used to be found in almost every abandoned crop field (especially if the land was poor).

One year, neighbors picked 50 or more gallons on a patch in eastern Rappahannock County. Corn has been there the previous season, so conditions were just perfect. Dewberries have a sweeter taste than cane blackberries.

If you look around the edge of woods (especially in the Piedmont and foothills), you may find a few huckleberries in late July or early August. These are wild cousins to blueberries and look similar, only smaller, as do the bushes (about 15 inches tall).

I had a nice crop of sour cherries this spring and ate cherry cobbler for two solid weeks. Good stuff.

There were reports of a good strawberry harvest, but the lockdown from the coronavirus apparently hurt the pick-your-own farms. My patch is in a year of renovation, so my berries were few and far between.

When it comes to berry picking, just remember that health experts say (at least for the moment) that sunshine and its vitamin D helps destroy the virus. So, the more sunshine the better—apparently.

Love this time of year. I buy one small piece of meat and pick the rest of my supper from the garden and my dessert from the fields.

You can’t beat that.

Donnie Johnston:

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