Contributed by Lois Ports for Bristlecone Audubon Chapter
It will soon be time to head for the mountains in search of berries. Whether you want to make jam, syrup, pies, wine or just to pick a snack there are many places in the Ruby Mountain to find wild berries. Three popular spots for berries are Soldier Canyon, Lamoille Canyon and Harrison Pass.
Be sure you know what berry you are picking since there are many berries in the Rubies that can cause digestive or heart problems. If you aren’t familiar with the local wild berries invest in a good field guide. Wild Berries of the West by Betty B. Derig and Margaret C. Fuller is one that is very good for our area.
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana):
This berry is found on a shrub reaching from 10 to 20 ft. in height. The berries hang in drooping clusters from 4 to 6 inches long. You will want to pick these berries when they have reached a purple-black color. Trying to eat them sooner will illustrate how their name was derived. Be sure to remove the pits and leaves before eating since they contain varying amounts of hydrocyanic acid.
Elderberry (Sambucus cerulea):
The Elderberry shrub can grow from 6 to 12 ft. tall. The dark blue, dusty-looking berries grow in umbrella-like clusters. All plant parts are TOXIC except for the cooked berries. Try one of these methods to remove the berries.
• Use two forks or a large toothed comb to pull the berries off the stems. Dump them in water and the stems will float.
• Freeze the berries and then drop them onto a hard surface. The stems will snap off.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia):
This small spreading shrub is 3 to 20 ft. tall. Though the fruits are called berries, they are constructed like tiny apples. When ripe they are a deep purplish-blue. This can be a very flavorful, sweet fruit and makes for a great trail snack. In moist years the berries are plump and juicy. During dry years they are often more seedy.
WILD BERRY RECIPES
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup frozen serviceberries (Do not thaw)
½ cup chopped walnuts
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Melt butter in a medium saucepan, remove from heat. Beat in sugars, egg, vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture, then fold in the serviceberries and walnuts. Pour into a greased 8 inch square baking pan. Bake at 350 for approximately 30 minutes.
Simple Chokecherry Jam
2 quarts chokecherries
1 pkg fruit pectin
¼ cup lemon juice
4 ½ cups sugar
apple juice as needed
Simmer the berries and ¼ cup water in a heavy kettle. Cook until soft then press them through a strainer or colander to remove the pits. You will need 3 cups of pulp, add apple juice if needed to reach the 3 cups. Mix the pulp, lemon juice and package of pectin. Bring to a full boil and add the sugar. Boil 1 minute after the mix comes back to a full boil. Remove from stove and skim the foam off the top. Pour into sterilized jelly jars and seal or pour into plastic containers and freeze.
2 pie shell crusts
4 cups elderberries (no stems!)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons corn starch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375. Mix cornstarch in a little bit of water and add to berries and sugar. Cook, stirring constantly until desired thickness. Add more cornstarch if not thick enough. Add lemon juice. Pour into bottom crust. Dot with butter. Put on top crust or make a lattice. Bake at 375 degrees until browned and berries are bubbling through holes in the crust, approximately 40 minutes.
Note: It is a good idea to put a pan or foil under the pie as it bakes since it might bubble over.