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29 May, 2011

I was gonna write about tending to the wild berries

but it turns out I already did. That time, didn't post any photos, however, so here are a few. I just trimmed back the new Spring runners, who in their enthusiasm would drown the carpet of older growth that has been flowering heavily this month. Where a shoot can cover new ground (like the pile of alder and cherry branches I want to hide), I let 'em go, but otherwise I want every precious photon that makes it to the South Sound ground to kiss the berries. 

Can you hear the bees?
Last year, I found that doing this makes the ordinarily tiny native blackberry swell up and sweeten. The wild imperative is to cover ground, send out runners to new bare spots, clamber and climb through other plants: colonize, colonize, colonize before the canopy closes so tight nothing will grow below. The berries seem to be secondary, the way to get birds and mice to transport a few seeds should the vegetative expansion stall.

So in I step to cut off the natural process for my own benefit, or my kids' benefit, anyway. This year I am more organized, and have caught the runners at a really good stage: tender tips, well-formed leaves, not enough time for alder debris and other dirt to add what I don't want, or for bugs to chew what I do. I've heard of the tips being candied and preserved, and tasted a few as I was cutting: there is a hint of berry flavor wrapped in mild astringency. Books say to peel them, but I found that pinching a shoot and running my fingers down it strips off what passes for thorns on new growth. Not sure whether I'll candy and preserve them, but they'll probably work in the wok or steamer, maybe snuck into a salad. 

The liko, the emerging leaves on the extreme tip, has more thorns and both the texture and flavor are stronger than the stem, so I'll pinch those off for tea. I'm hoping that it will be analogous to some fine Chinese tea I had one time, formed entirely of the baby leaves picked at their tender best.

Further down, the runner is too tough to eat, but the leaves are good. Again, it's a matter of pinch and pull, but this time I keep the part I removed, and toss the stalk.  (As soon as I write that, I find myself wondering what uses the stripped runners could have. Hmmm...) And again on another matter, I cannot overstate how nice the leaves are right now. No bug holes or eggs or exudations, no blemishes, none of the hardness of texture and appearance of old leaves. I have read many times about gathering blackberry leaves for tea, but nobody mentions that it should be done at young runner stage. I've already mentioned the tender freshness of the produce at that point, as well as the future benefit in terms of berries, but there is also this: the thorns are smaller and not so stiff, so it's easier and less painful.

It's rumored that there will be sun today, and the leaves can dry. That, I could not plan, but the rest of the timing I will take credit for later today as I sip some tea, and later this summer as I feast on fat juicy berries.

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