It started with Himalayan blackberries.
For as long as I can remember, I have known how to pick fruit, specifically Himalayan blackberries. It’s something I started doing as soon as I was physically capable. My father recalls that a gardener came to my kindergarten class to explain how flowers led to fruit, and that he was impressed that I already knew about all that because I had already seen it all happen with Himalayan blackberry plants.
I was primed at a very young age to figure out how to get ripe fruit, even if it meant navigating thorns, to get the sweet reward.
The Himalayan blackberries are in season now in San Francisco. Some years I ignore them (it is annoying to deal with the thorns and blackberries are not, IMO, the tastiest of fruit), but this year I am collecting blackberries.
As I mentioned in this blog post, I’ve stayed at the Dinsmores’ Hiker Haven in Baring, Washington. There are no stores in Baring, and I never made a trip to Skykomish (the nearest place with any kind of store that was open in summer). I had picked up a resupply package at Stevens Pass, and I was able to get enough food to feed myself at the Dinsmores from the hiker box, but the hiker box didn’t supply any fresh produce. But the Dinsmores’ had a great thick Himalayan blackberry bush that was flush with berries. That’s how I got my fresh food fix. A couple other hikers also picked a few berries, but most hikers ignored the bush; I couldn’t understand why. Did they not want fresh fruit??!!
And as I discussed in this old post, I also did a lot of berry-picking as I hiked the Pacific Crest trail in Northern Washington. Fresh huckleberries, yum yum. I’ve also picked wild huckleberries in Marin County (just north of San Francisco), though they don’t taste as good as the huckleberries in Washington.
When I was in Deishu/Haines, Alaska (Deishu = original Tlingit name, Haines = name given by Christian missionaries), I found some wild strawberries and ate them. Yes, wild strawberries grow in Alaska! They were tasty. I wasn’t in Gustavus at the right time to get strawberries, though I heard that Gustavus is known for having the best wild strawberries in Alaksa.
And Sitka, Alaska … aw man, there were so many berries, many of them right in town!
I could reach good berry patches just a five minute walk away from the Sitka hostel (where I slept). I didn’t especially like the salmonberries, but the red huckleberries were fantastic.
Generally, I find it hard to walk past a bush which I know has ripe, edible berries without taking at least a few of them (unless I know it’s forbidden). It’s a habit from childhood.
And I don’t just pick berries.
I planted a plum tree in our backyard in 2010. It’s taken years for it to mature, but now it’s old enough to produce quite a bit of fruit. There are only a few fruits left on the tree, the season is pretty much over. But over the past few weeks, I’ve taken great pleasure in picking the fresh plum fruit.
It’s said that primates evolved trichromatic vision in order to find and identify ripe fruit. I can believe it. I am never more focused on subtle differences in hues of red than when I am deciding whether a plum is ready to pick. This is especially important if I can’t feel a plum before picking it (I have a tool for picking plums which are out of arm’s reach – when I use it I can’t use my sense of touch on the fruit and must rely on sight alone).
I’ve also taken to picking fruit from the many cherry plums in my neighborhood. Based on comments I’ve heard from bystanders, including one neighbor who I thought would have known better, a lot of people aren’t aware that cherry plums are edible. They totally are edible. The problems with picking cherry plums are 1) they usually are out of reach, which means I have to use a tool to pick them 2) because they are so small it’s hard to grab them with the tool and 3) cherry plum leaves are purple-red, just like the fruits themselves. Because of the similarity of color, it’s sometimes hard to find the fruit, but there is a very slight difference in hue, not to mention that the fruits have a very different shape from the leaves. If it were just a matter of getting fruit, trying to harvest from cherry plum trees on the street wouldn’t be worth it (blackberries are way easier, even considering the thorns), but to me it’s a sport. Picking cherry plums is challenging enough to be interesting, but far from impossible.
I also recently discovering that some of the supposedly sterile flowering cherry trees actually do yield fruit, and I’ve started picking them when I can. Some people question my boldness in picking and consuming a new kind of fruit, but 1) I know what cherries taste like, these are definitely cherries even if they don’t look like what’s available in stores and 2) they are obviously rose family plants, and there are no poisonous fruits in the rose family, just as there aren’t any poisonous fruits in the vaccinium genus of the heather family (huckleberries, blueberries, etc.). I never pick any kind of wild fruit/berry which I can’t confidently identify as a member of the rose family, the vaccinium genus of the heather family, or identify the specific species and know that it is safe (incidently, the other wild berries/fruits I sometimes pick and know to be safe are also in the heather family).
There is something about picking fruit which simply feels right to me. Maybe it’s just my early childhood experiences, maybe it’s the very long history of my human and pre-human ancestors picking fruit for sustenance expressing itself, maybe it’s just the delight of getting a sweet for my efforts, or maybe it’s all of that. It feels right.
Great post 😁
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