Berries, berries, and more berries!

The heat of summer is in full swing, and the berry season is starting to pick up. With such a strange winter and spring the ripening times aren’t ‘normal’, or more accurately aren’t as they’ve been in years past. With that being said, tis the season for berry picking! Take it when it comes and do your darndest to best utilize mother nature’s abundance of nourishing and tasteful summer fruits! I’ve been doing just that…

Several days ago on a bike ride with my friend Paris Rae, we came upon a lovely patch of Ribes odoratum, or clove currant. This is a black currant species  indigenous to NA with large, shiny black berries that are highly aromatic with a wonderful spicey-sweet flavor. A truly delectable roadside find!

Antioxidant-rich clove currants…
Clove currant gets it’s name from the profuse, clove-scented flowers which perfume the air in early spring. A few years ago I found this large and in charge specimen LOADED with flowers, once again on a roadside…

For the past 3-4 weeks I’ve been consuming plenty of European black currants (Ribes nigrum) of which I absolutely indulge upon and relish their complex ‘foxy’ flavor! Five varieties grow in my garden which all ripen at slightly different times, and today I picked the last of ’em from ‘Consort’. The bushes hold onto to their fruit quite well for the duration of picking season, which is a nice characteristic. This cannot be said for softer fruits like raspberries. I was meaning to make a batch of black currant jelly, but instead ended up eating them all fresh out of hand and mixed in salads. I love to let visitors try the black currants and observe their reaction. Most people enjoy them.

Handful of mixed black currant varieties.

On hot days like today I like to make a refreshing iced berry drink. Today I made one with black currants. It is a simple recipe and you can alternate black currants with any other berry. This is all you’ll need:

  • 1 cup fresh berries
  • 1 cup crushed ice
  • A spoonful of organic raw honey never hurts

I use a magic bullet with the heavy duty blade; you can use a blender, vita-mix, or whatever you’ve got! Mix the ingredients and blend. Sometimes you’ll need to add a small amount of water or other liquid to get the blending started.

I like to add a few sprigs of fresh mint! Yum…

Blackcaps, or black raspberries, are reaching their peak season. They happily grow wild around here and if you know a good spot then there is usually never a shortage of berries. I like to freeze them for use in pies and smoothies during winter. They also make a delicious low-sugar jam.

Black raspberries at different stages of ripening…
In just a short period you can collect a considerable amount of black raspberries. They go well with oatmeal in the morning!

I expect the next two weeks to be the ideal time to collect a lot of these gems for freezing and preserving. Once you familiarize yourself with these fruits you’ll learn that its all about timing and it surely pays to keep a close eye on whose ripening!

A subtle mutation gives these black raspberries a golden color. This was exciting to find growing wild around here, somewhat of a rarity.
Interestingly enough golden fruited variants often times express golden tinged foliage and stems. For breeders and selectors this is one way to tell if you might have a golden-fruited specimen before fruiting occurs. As the wood lignifies on these black raspberry floricanes it too gains a yellow hue.

In my garden it is an ‘in-between’ year for strawberries. My strawberry bed was renovated this spring so it won’t be in production again until next year. Fortunately I have a lot of alpine strawberries still producing. Alpine strawberries are the wild european strawberry. Similar to the woodland strawberries you find growing here. Small fruit that packs a serious punch. Red and white-fruited varieties exist and their everbearing tendency keeps fresh berries comin’ all season! The ones in the image below were picked from a local edible landscape installed by Roots To Fruits. Stay tuned for a coming article on alpine strawberries

These ‘White Soul’ alpine strawberries have a pineapple-like flavor and are extremely sweet.
These clove currants were intentionally planted in this edible landscape with alpine strawberries.
A better view of the edible landscape featuring alpine strawberry, clove currant, and birds foot trefoil (a nitrogen-fixing groundcover).
Speaking of white and golden fruits, my golden raspberries are just starting to ripen their first flush of berries. These are a real treat…still a week or two off from any substantial harvest.

One of the nice things about white-fruited berries vs. red,purple/blue hues is that they appear to be less noticeable to birds. Birds tend to recognize red and purple as something to go for where white and yellow, from my experience- are left alone. White alpine strawberries and golden raspberries are great from that regard. Another nice white-fruited berry is white currant. Technically white currants are just a variant of red currant (R.rubrum). I have a few varieties in my garden and most of them are all gone by now as they ripen much faster then reds(which are just starting to ripen). However a later ripening variety by the name of ‘Primus’ lives in my garden, and she is just now starting to ripen her berries(no currants are not dioecious!).

‘Primus’ has firm berries which ripen evenly and rate high in flavor and productivity…
My espaliered ‘Pink Champagne’ currant is covered with ripe fruit right now. They dangle in clusters like little jewels with the sun shining through them! Beauty…
Although this plant was labeled as ‘Pink Champagne’ when I got it four years ago, I have suspicion that it was mislabeled as the berries never really turn fully pink. Hmm…

It has been a sad season for my gooseberries. I set out nearly 15 new bushes this year and they’ve had a rough go thus far. But its mainly my fault. They were planted in an area where horses and deer live and apparently the fencing system was not adequate. Aside from being trampled on a few times, there’s also been a serious outbreak of small green worms which defoliate a plant in a number of days. Not sawfly, still needs ID. If anyone knows please share.

Ripe gooseberries…but whats missing? FOLIAGE…yikes!
On a better note, about 95% of this seasons apple grafts have successfully took and are putting on oodles of new growth!
My ‘Frontenac’ grape vine wasn’t phased by the shifty spring weather. Nice fruit set…
BUT, the foliage is covered with these Japanese beetles…yikes.
Wild hazelnuts growing on the side of a dirt road…lets see if we can get them before the squirrels!
Beautiful image of  bumble bee ecstatically burrowed within a purple-flowering raspberry blossom…
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What did you CHE!?

I first learned of Cudrania tricuspidata aka Chinese mulberry, or CHE, several years ago when reading Uncommon Fruits For Every Garden by Lee Reich. Most midwesterners are familiar with osage orange, which was commonly planted as a living fence on old farmsteads. Its relative che, however, differs in that it produces an edible fruit which resembles the brain-like fruit of the osage orange, but is about 3-4x smaller and a pinkish-salmon color. Being a nut for exotic and unusual fruits, I had to get a che tree growing in my orchard. And so I did. Three years later its about 6-7′ tall and has yet to bear. I patiently await the day I can finally taste the mysterious che fruit! I have heard different reports in regards to flavor, but some claim it tastes like a mixture of watermelon and fig. Yum…

Photo courtesy http://www.eat-it.com

Michael McConkey of Edible Landscaping is one of the few nurserymen to sell che trees. Here is a great video of Michael with his seedless che tree:


Keith Johnson of Permaculture Activist wrote an informatve article on che a few years ago. After revisting his article I thought it’d be a good idea to share it. So here it is:

Che, eh? Mmmm. Nom nom.

By Keith Johnson

This odd fruit, Cudrania tricuspidata (which in this image seems under ripe or a different variety than mine), is presently (Fri Sept 5, 09) yielding (finally) beautifully, abundantly and deliciously in my USDA Zone 6a-b ridge-and-valley landscape in Southern Indiana (a quarter century ago it used to be Zone 5) in heavy clay and (this year) a wet season (with a three week drought in late Aug through recently). It seems to be resistant to pests, the birds have tasted it (must observe more) and there are at least 200, inch-to-inch-and-a-half, fruits with about half of them ripe at the moment. About 50 taste testers at recent party said it reminded them “melon”, “mulberry” and “fig” (it is related to the latter two) and generally enjoyed it. It’s six years old, was transplanted here from W. NC, three years ago, and it lived at least its first year in a pot. I’d say that indicates sturdiness.My thornless cultivar is grafted onto an Osage orange seedling. I recommend it highly. You can buy it (where I did) at Edible Landscape in VA.

Moraceae; Common Names: Che, Chinese Che, Chinese Mulberry, Cudrang, Mandarin Melon Berry, Silkworm Thorn.
Distant Affinity: Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), Jackfruit (A. heterophyllus), Fig (Ficus spp.), Mulberry (Morus spp.), African Breadfruit (Treculis africana).
Origin: The che is native to many parts of eastern Asia from the Shantung and Kiangson Provinces of China to the Nepalese sub-Himalayas. It became naturalized in Japan many years ago. In China, the leaves of the che serve as a backup food for silkworms when mulberry leaves are in short supply. The tree was introduced into England and other parts of Europe around 1872, and into the U.S. around 1930.
Adaptation: The che requires minimal care and has a tolerance of drought and poor soils similar to that of the related mulberry. It can be grown in most parts of California and other parts of the country, withstanding temperatures of -20° F.

DESCRIPTION

Growth Habit: The deciduous trees can eventually grow to about 25 ft. in height, but often remains a broad, spreading bush or small tree if not otherwise trained when they are young. Immature wood is thorny but loses its thorns as it matures. Female trees are larger and more robust than male trees.

Foliage: The alternate leaves resemble those of the mulberry, but are smaller and thinner and pale yellowish-green in color. The typical form is distinctly trilobate, with the central lobe sometimes twice as long as the lateral ones, but frequently unlobed leaves of varied outlines are also found on the same plant. As the plant grows, the tendency seems towards larger and entire leaves, with at the most indistinct or irregular lobing. The general form of the leaves comprise many variations between oblong and lanceolate. The che leafs and blooms late in spring–after apples.

Flowers: The che is dioecious, with male and female flowers on different plants. Appearing in June, both types of flowers are green and pea-sized. The male flowers turn yellow as the pollen ripens and is released, while the wind-pollinated female flowers develop many small stigmas over the surface of the immature fruit. Male plants occasionally have a few female flowers which will set fruit.

Fruit: Like the related mulberry, the che fruit is not a berry but a collective fruit, in appearance somewhat like a round mulberry crossed with a lychee, 1 to 2 inches in diameter. The ripe fruits are an attractive red or maroon-red color with a juicy, rich red flesh inside and 3 to 6 small brown seeds per fruit. The flavor is quite unlike the vinous quality of better mulberries. While still firm they are almost tasteless, but when fully soft ripe they develop a watermelon-like flavor that can be quite delicious. The sugar content is similar to that of a ripe fig. In colder areas with early leaf drop the bright red fruit are an attractive sight dangling from smooth, leafless branches.