In the heat of the summer, I have found a great excuse to escape into the cool of the woods: raspberries! They are easy to find and grow all over the county.
When most people think of raspberries, the red variety comes to mind; however, raspberries come in red, yellow, purple and black. Due to the prickly nature of the raspberry bush, they are part of the rose family and are considered aggregate fruits, which means they have a collection of tiny seed-bearing fruits–known as drupelets–arranged around a hollow core. Picking wild raspberries can be a fun-and delicious family pastime.
Look for berries on the edges of woods. They love sun and thrive along trails and around fields. Unless you know the land well, assume they have been treated with some sort of fertilizers or pesticides and wash them well. I like to rinse with a vinegar and water solution or even a mild soap bath will work.
Pick black raspberries early to late summer, depending on the variety. Black raspberry bushes are generally found in hills or clumps and do not produce many suckers. This fruit is smaller and seedier than the red varieties; it is best used for making pastries and preserves.
Check wild red raspberries several times during the season. Some varieties can be harvested in early summer, some mid-summer and others late summer. Some varieties are ever-bearing, which means they produce fruit in early summer to mid-summer and again in the fall. Red raspberries are well-suited for most uses.
Pick yellow raspberries in early summer and again in the fall, since most varieties are ever-bearing. Yellow raspberries have more sugar and are less acidic than the red varieties, making them good for eating but not for cooking.
Look for purple raspberries to grow in hills like the black varieties. They have an irregular shape and are better used for preserving than eating fresh. Pick purple raspberries in mid to late summer.
Pick all varieties of raspberries gently since the delicate fruit can be squashed with little effort. The raspberry is ripe when the fruit comes off the stem easily. A berry that is not ripe will cling to the stem tightly. Leave this fruit on the cane and check back again in several days.
Raspberries do not stay fresh long after picking. Do not wash them before storing; lay them on a plate lined with a paper towel and store in the refrigerator only. They will keep fresh in the refrigerator for 2 days at the most. Raspberries freeze well. Use a low water pressure to wash them and then pat them dry with a paper towel. Place in a single layer on a plate or cookie sheet and put them in the freezer. Transfer the frozen raspberries to a freezer bag. Frozen raspberries will keep for 1 year.
Another thing to keep in mind is that raspberries and poison ivy love to grow in the same areas in the wild. I would recommend wearing long pants and sleeves and washing your clothes immediately after picking. The berries’ natural defense are its thorns. I’ve never harvested berries without a few pricks, but also have never come away from a berry forage disappointed.