Monday, August 16, 2010

The forest bears fruit

A few days ago, Normandy and Edmund came home from a long walk through the woods, each with a handful of blackberries held in a large leaf. They professed there were tons more to be had and described the route they followed. Garth and I grabbed two dozen pint sized cardboard containers and two large boxes and bounded up the hill and into the woods beyond the gated pasture. Among the trees we found large patches of blackberry foliage but fewer fruiting plants than we had imagined. We waded through their gangly stems and sharp thorns for an hour and came down the hill with only two pints filled.
I have been calling them blackberries, but they are not like other blackberries I have had. They are wild. They offer a fleeting sweet burst followed by a lingering bitterness reminiscent of grapefruit.

Naturally, I poured heavy cream over them, but this wasn't a perfect marriage. The citrusy bitterness cut right through the cream. The cream and these berries were like ill matched dance partners spinning madly in opposite directions in my mouth.

The following day, after a salad bathed in balsamic and olive oil, I threw a few berries into the pool of dressing on my plate. The acidity of the balsamic vinegar was such a fine compliment to their subtle sweetness. If you find yourself with a fickle berry in the future, take it on a walk through the savory side.

These little jewels are ripe elderberries. The bushes are scattered about in one of our pastures. Garth and Edmund harvested two three gallon buckets full. They picked in the pouring rain. The birds had taken about 60% of the available fruit. I am comforted knowing that birds have such good taste.

Garth and I sorted through them, separating the ebony berries from their magenta stems. The fruit weighed in at 2 lbs.

Garth has been talking about making an elderberry mead this fall, but now that the harvest is upon us, he is planning in earnest.
If you have ever made mead, please relate your success or your failure. We are in uncharted waters.



  1. From your photos, it looks like you picked black caps or better yet a real treat...long black berries. Both, my favorite! Make a pie...delicious. Add some lemon zest. Yum yum...xo

  2. Hey Normandy (and Edmond, Garth, and Alanna, whom I've never met)

    Made mead a few times, and it's not too complicated. After all, if a fallen bee hive can fill with rain water, and vikings can find it, drink it, and love it, then it can't be too intimidating a process.

    My only tips would be that an OCD-level of sanitation is acceptable unless you want botulism, get a hydrometer to see how your samples are faring with sugar content, and have patience with the second fermentation if you decide to let it carbonate in a bottle afterward (most delicious IMHO).

    Good luck! I always preferred cranberries- you need something tart to cut that swimming sweetness, plus it adds acid, which you need for the yeast to be happy.

  3. Beautiful writing, Alanna.... thanks.