Black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) are one of my very favorite foods. This year we have a bumper crop–everywhere I go, the black raspberries seem to be growing! I have been harvesting at several spots, including in my own yard. Black raspberries have a very unique flavor–slightly sweet, with a hint of floral undertones, and tart, rich. So delicious. They grow on canes that get up to three feet tall (taller if they grow up trees) with tons of thorns. The stems of the canes are typically either a dark purple (indicating an older vine) or light green. Both kinds of stems have a white powdery layer (which allows you to clearly distinguish them from black berries or other red raspberries.
Black raspberries come into season in July in most of the Midwest, Great Lakes, and Mid-Atlantic states. This year, we are a little later than previous years (usually 4th of July is around when we really start harvesting them). The season lasts only a few short weeks (and they are followed by blackberries, so you can have fresh berries for quite a while if you know where to pick!). Generally, if you want them you have to pick them yourself because like most wild foods, they aren’t commercially available. I have seen them occasionally at the Farmer’s Market, however. We’ve had a lot of rain and cold spring weather (and a dismal harvest last year) and I think all of these things contributed to the bounty of berries that we have this year. Here are some of the bushes I have been picking–you can see how they are just loaded with fruit.
To find black raspberries, you want to look to the edges, the places where fields meet forests. They like dappled sunlight. They won’t fruit if they are too deep in the forest. The berries will dry up if they are in too much sun. I’ve found them in both hardwood forests and pine forests–and in my front yard :). You an identify them year round by looking at the cane stems.
Black raspberry fruit makes stunning jam, syrup, sauce, fruit leather, dried berries, and so much more. They freeze ok, but I find that they get too tart and lose their sweetness with freezing, so I prefer other methods of preservation. I use canning recipes from the Ball Book of Home Preserving, especially, the raspberry jam and sauce. I’ve also dried some this year, and they are pretty good.
In addition to the fruit, the leaves make a fine herbal remedy. Matthew Wood indicates that Raspberry leaf is a mild astringent, good as a tonic for relaxed tissue. It was used by the native Americans used them for pregnancy, preventing morning sickness, preventing miscarriage, and aiding in healthy births. Its also used for diarrhea (pg 308- 309, The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Herbs).
Black Raspberry has been one of my sacred herbs for quite some time. Its one of the fruits that I find “welcoming” when I enter new wild areas. Despite their thorny qualities, which my friend and herbalist Jim McDonald discusses in detail, the plant is a nice one, telling you to be cautious but come closer for some fruit.
Here is a recipe that another good friend recently taught me, which is making fruit leather. Fruit leather can be made with all sorts of berries and they keep a really long time.
Black Raspberry Fruit Leather
Fruit leather is like a fruit rollup. You can choose if you want a more crunchy fruit leather (by keeping the whole fruit, including the seeds) or a soft leather (by straining out the seeds).
- 6 cups black raspberries
- 1/2 cup honey or maple syrup (or more to taste; you could use sugar but I’m trying to keep my sweetening local if possible)
- Food dehydrator with plastic inserts and/or parchment paper
The recipe is simple: put your raspberries on the stove on low and mash them up. As soon as you start to see steam coming off of them, pull them off the heat and add in the honey. If you want to strain your berries, cook them at least 10 min, then strain, then add honey. You can add as much honey as you want, but the more you add, the stickier your fruit leather gets. I found 1/2 cup to about 6 cups berries (unstained) gives just a hint of sweetness and flexibility to the fruit leather. After honey is added, wait till its cooled down about 5 minutes, then put it in a thin layer on your dehydrator. Dehydrate about 12-15 hours on the fruit setting till its leathery. Store in airtight jars (I stored mine in canning jars). This is a great trail food!
Here are photos of the process:
PS: My posts will probably be sporadic in the next few months. We have a bumper crop of just about everything I like to eat–black raspberry, blueberry, apple, cherry, etc. After work each day, I’m rushing out to harvest, harvest, harvest! And then I come home and preserve, preserve, preserve! But I’ll try to sneak a few blog posts in :).