Delicious, Mouthwatering Berries: Your Guide to Goodness

Sweet, delicious and full of vitamins, berries are one of the joys of summertime. Learn about all of the most popular types of this favorite fruit.

| July/August 1976

Wild berries! Nothing's as likely to set a mouth to watering and a body to thinking about pies and jams and jellies and other suck excruciatingly delicious treats. And there's no better time than right now—mid-summer—for gathering nature's fruits from fields and forests, roadsides and city streets, meadows and open slopes. The berries you see here are only a small sampling of the myriad types and varieties that can be found in virtually any corner of North America, and you shouldn't have much trouble locating at least one tasty species within a few miles of your own back door. When you do, try your best to get as many of the bite size morsels past your mouth and into a collecting bucket as you can (a formidable test of will power, to be sure), and remember to return later to the same spot if you see any flowers of fruit yet to come. By carefully observing where and when each variety in your region ripens, you many well be able to "go a-berryin'" from late spring until the first few weeks of fall!


Blackberries are the forager's delight and the eternal bane of botanists, who thus far have only been able to pin down the number of individual species to "somewhere between 50 and 390". True blackberries are borne on thorny upright canes (as opposed to trailing vines) and can be found throughout most of the continent—including even Arctic regions—along roadsides and hedgerows and in abandoned meadows. Rich in vitamins A and C, the fruit—which is preceded by large white flowers in early spring—can usually be harvested from late June to early August and beyond. Pick the berries when they're dead-ripe sweet (one or two days after they've turned black)


The American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) thrives in peaty bogs and similarly semi-marshy areas from Nova Scotia to North Carolina and westward to Minnesota. The coast of Massachusetts and other relatively cool regions near large bodies of water are particularly prime territory for this small shrub, which is easily identified by its thick oval-shaped evergreen leaves and nodding pink or red flowers that blossom between June and August. The tart berries (best when cooked with honey, for sauces and jelly) turn ripe-red during September and October and cling to their branches throughout winter. They're especially good, however, when picked soon after autumn's first frost.


Blueberries (genus: Vaccinium ) are one of the world's most widespread fruits, and occur from the Tropics to northern Alaska. The two most abundant species in the U.S. are the low-bush blueberry (which rarely exceeds a foot in height, and ranges from New England west to Minnesota), and the high-bush variety (which can reach a height of up to six feet, and grows throughout the Atlantic coastal plain from Maine to Georgia and west to Lake Michigan). Both ripen between July and September, and thrive in areas of acid soil . . . particularly burned-over fields and old pastures. Other, less common types can be found from the mountains of the West Coast to the swamps of New Jersey.


The wild red raspberry (Rubus strigosus) is found in dry or rocky areas from Newfoundland to British Columbia, and south in the Alleghenies to North Carolina and in the Rockies to New Mexico, The tangy, widely favored fruit is borne on canes that grow from two to five feet tall and are covered with many weak, bristly spines. Look for the promising three- or five-petaled white flowers between May and July, and make a mental note to bring a bucket back with you several weeks later (mid-July to September) when the canes will be laden with plump, ripe-for-the-picking berries. You'll have to add commercial pectin to the fruit if you intend to put it up as jam or jelly.


Although roughly half a dozen species of wild strawberries (genus: Fragaria ) grow in this part of the world (ranging from the Arctic Circle to Florida and west to California), the fruit is found in greatest abundance in the Northeast and eastern Canada. Plants sort three coarsely toothed leaves, produce small five-petaled white flowers in the spring, and bear fruit (which is most often red, but sometimes white) between May and July. Look for this most-sought-after forager's prize in open woods and clearings, on exposed slopes, and along roadsides, streambeds, and railroads. Harvest 'em soon after sunrise, when they're still glistening with the early morning mist.

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