Foraged vegetables are always more fun to cook. So our resident forager, Tama Matsuoka Wong, is introducing us to the seasonal wild plants we should be looking for, and the recipes that will make our kitchens feel a little more wild.
Today: A primer on American-born berries, plus a pie for whatever berries you have on hand.
If you’ve ever found a blueberry or a black raspberry on the side of a trail and popped it in your mouth, you’ve been foraging. Although it’s more convenient to “forage” farmers markets or grocery aisles for cultivated berries, I love the intense flavor of wild berries, as well as the fun of picking them in their natural habitat. Here is a rundown of some of the summer season’s most common wild berries:
Aggregate berries: raspberries, blackberries, and wineberries
Aggregate berries are distinguished by their tightly-packed clusters of fruits, known as carpels. The most common example is the raspberry, which is really a bunch of tiny red fruits clustered together. This sort of formation is a good thing, because each little fruit droplet on its own would hardly be enough for a mouthful!
These berries belong to the rose family, and grow on long arching “canes” that often form dense, brambly thickets. Much like roses, their bristles and thorns can make picking a somewhat prickly adventure -- so be prepared!
"Crown" berries: Blueberries, huckleberries, and juneberries
Wild blueberries and huckleberries are in the Heath family, and grow as bushes or shrubs in soils with low acidity levels. While these are all bluish in color, the key identifier is that the edible blueberries all have a crown at one end.
It is important to note that there are several varieties of poisonous berries: Pokeweed, privet, honeysuckle vine berries, nightshade, and Japanese honeysuckle are all blue or purple in color; red-colored poisonous berries include bush honeysuckle and yew. Neither are aggregate fruits, nor do their berries have crowns. Always be sure to identify your plants, and do not just pop any old berry into your mouth as an experiment.
After a day spent foraging (and gobbling) berries in the woods, the last thing I want to do is spend a lot of time cooking, which is exactly why I tend to rely on store-bought pie crust for this incredibly simple pie. The pie is all berry, so their wild flavors shine through. It gets its zing from a bit of lemon and cassis, a trick I learned from my friend Betsy. It is also very flexible in terms of berry-to-berry ratios, so if I've eaten up most of the blueberries, I can just add more wineberries, and so on.
Makes one double-crust 9-inch pie
1 double pie crust (your favorite recipe, or store-bought)
5 cups mixed wild berries (I used 2 cups wineberries, 2 cups wild blueberries, and 1 cup mulberries)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cassis
Juice of half a lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup flour
Fruit jam (we used wineberry-blueberry jam from last year)
1 egg yolk (optional)
Raw sugar (optional)
Berry photos by Tama Matsuoka Wong; pie photo by Mia Wong