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Monday, July 27, 2009

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Dewberries are a common wild berry that grows in many parts of North America, with several close relatives in many European countries. Related to raspberries, boysenberries, and blackberries, they are smaller and less prolific, but for what they lack in size, they make up for in flavor. Here are some steps to help you harvest these delicious berries successfully.

Determine when the berries will begin bearing in your region . Normally, dewberries begin to ripen about 6 weeks after the last freezing temperatures in an area, and continue to bear several weeks, unless drought or extreme heat causes them to become dormant. Find a location where you can pick . Make sure you are on public property, or have permission to enter private property to forage for your berries. Highway and railroad right-of-ways, forestry fire lanes, and country roads are good places to look. Be aware that some highway departments spray herbicides on the right-of-way, so you may have to do a little research to make sure the berries you find are safe to eat.Watch for signs of ripening berries . You will notice dark green clumps of bushy vines with reddish purple stems in open areas with full sun and good drainage. Soon after the last frost, these clumps will be covered with bright white, five-petaled blooms, and soon after, the berries will appear. Watch as they progress from green, to red, then deep purple or glossy black, at which point they are ready to pick.

Dress yourself appropriately for an outdoor experience . The dewberry vines are covered with sharp stickers, so long pants and sturdy boots are recommended. Long sleeves are a very good idea. Dab on some mosquito repellent if you are sensitive to insect bites, and apply some sunscreen or wear a wide brimmed hat to protect your skin. Find a suitable picking container for your effort. Plastic grocery bags, small pails like one gallon ice cream buckets, or plastic mixing bowls will work for this step. Handles will make carrying these containers easier if they have them. A one or two quart bucket with a handle fastened onto your belt will free both hands for picking, or a hand for picking and one to hold your stick. Take along a walking stick or some other implement to probe the thick briar vines for snakes or other hazards if you are going to pick in an area of thick growth where you cannot see the area where you are walking clearly.
Locate an area to pick where there are clean areas to stand, to avoid an unexpected confrontation with snakes or fire ants, or other unwelcome creatures. Ideally, you will pick in a place where there is minimal dust from traffic or other sources, since the berry's tiny lobes make cleaning dust from them difficult. Examine the area around the dewberry vines for hazards, which may include wasp nests, poison oak or ivy, fire ants, or even venomous snakes. Look for traffic dangers also, if you are picking along a roadway.
Dried, wilted berries are not worth picking
Dried, wilted berries are not worth picking
Learn to distinguish the prime berries, those that are completely ripe, but haven't begun to wilt. Look for bug sting marks where stinkbugs or other pests have already dined on your fruit. The ideal berries will be glossy black, with a firm feel, and little red appearing on any of the lobes.

Pick the berries along the perimeter of the patch of vines you are searching, choosing the ones on vertical stems that can be reached without placing your hands too far into the tangle. Dewberry vines have tiny, razor-sharp thorns that can easily prick an unsuspecting picker painfully.Grasp individual berries carefullyto keep from crushing or bruising them. Pull the berry at an angle from the stem, breaking it away rather than tugging it. This will leave the bud on the vine stems, rather than the berry, saving time later when you are cleaning them. Pull the berry into the cup of the palm of your hand, so you can use your thumb and fingers to continue picking until your palm is full, rather than taking individual berries to the bucket every time you pick one. Drop the berries into your container carefully, keeping them from being crushed or bruised. These berries have very tender skins, and abusing them will make its impossible to clean them thoroughly for eating later.

Wash your berries when you get them home by placing them in a large bowl, and slowly filling the bowl with water until the berries have sufficient water and room to float freely. Stir them gently with your hand to dislodge any dirt or debris that was collected with them.
Enjoy fresh dewberry cobbler
Enjoy your berries in a fresh pie, cobbler, or covered with fresh cream and sugar.

* Pick early in the morning while there is dew on the vines or soon after a rain shower for fresh, clean berries.
* Keep your berries out of the sun while traveling, and protect them from being shaken about and bruised.
* Look around at all the sights while you are picking. You may see animals, their tracks, other berries that will ripen later, and tons of spring wildflowers.
* Do not wash berries until you are ready to use them, as the water will make it easier for molds to grow on the surface.
Sassafras bushes that can be harvested next fall for sassafras tea!

Rattlesnakes are frequent visitors to wild dewberry patches, where they can often find an easy meal. Dewberry briars, although small, can inflict painful wounds.
Those little briars can cause painful scratches!
Those little briars can cause painful scratches!


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