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Foraging Treasures

It’s hunting season now, and we’ve been trying to figure out where all the elk are, since we’re new to the area. So, a few days ago, we decided to take a drive specifically to find a good hunting spot.

We loaded the ATV into the back of the pickup truck (a feat in itself) and took off into parts unknown. Robby had found a hunting app that he downloaded to his phone, showing all the forest roads and trails and indicating public vs private lands.

As we drove along unfamiliar forestry roads, we noticed an enormous number of elderberry trees along the side of the roads. The umbrella-like heads of elderberries were gigantic!

They were much, much bigger than the ones I’ve managed to find on our property We finally decided to stop and gather some.

Most of the best heads were at the top of the trees, so Robby, bent the branches down, and I cut or broke the branches right where the heads were. Soon, we had a large pile at our feet.

Since we didn’t plan on this activity, we had no container for them. Ah, but we DID have the ATV which has a bed. I started loading them into the ATV.

When we had finished one tree, we saw several others within just a few feet. Of course we had to get those as well.

Then we started back on our original journey. But now, those gigantic heads of berries just jumped right out at us from the side of the road, saying “pick me, pick me. Of course, we just had to stop and pick those too.

When we got home, I emptied them out of the ATV bed and filled two 5-gallon buckets and half of a large Rubbermaid rectangular container.

It seemed like a lot more than I thought we had picked. But, we had lots of leaves and branches. Surely those took up a lot of room.

The next morning, Robby brought the berries into the house, rescuing them from the chickens, which had discovered them and decided they were a real treat. I spent the next three hours getting the berries off the branches.

My previous experience had been with very meager heads, and this was a completely new experience.

For the first bucketful, I snipped the small bunches of berries off the main head. They grow much like grapes do, with tiny stems connected to another tiny bunch, and then connected to a ‘main’ stem.

The result of this method wasn’t very satisfactory. I ended up with tons of tiny stems mixed in with the berries, and it was very difficult to get them out.

I changed my approach, and just pulled the berries off the entire head with a rolling or pulling motion.

The small, dark ones didn’t come off easily. The big dusky ones practically fell off.

By tasting them, I realized that the small, dark berries just weren’t as ripe. So I concentrated on the ones that came off easily.

By the time I was done, I had two 8-quart pans and several 4-6 quart pans filled with berries. I estimated I had 30 quarts of berries!

Do you have any idea of how much that is? I had run out of containers.

My ‘treasure’ was beginning to look more like a disaster.

I decided to make juice with some, using it later to make pancake syrup. The remaining berries would become ice cream topping or pie filling.

I filled my 8-quart crockpot and set it on low to start one batch cooking. I took my 8-quart stockpot filled with berries, added some water to keep them from scorching, and started cooking that batch on low.

The rest of the berries just sat there — waiting their turn.

The next day, one of our apple trees, which were all extremely prolific this year, distracted me. We’ve been taking 2-3 buckets of windfall apples out to the meadow every day, and yet the branches are still bending from the weight of more apples.

Robby really loves apple pie, but I have to confess, I’ve never made a pie from scratch. I decided with this ‘treasure’ of apples, I should learn.

The berries sat, while I dealt with the apples.

I picked about 2/3 of a bucket of fairly good apples. Since there are wild apple trees everywhere, unattended, wormy apples come with the territory.

For some reason, this tree had a lot of apples that had no worm holes.

I don’t have one of those corer/peeler things. I had one once, but it just didn’t work well with lopsided apples.

So I peeled, cored, and sliced those apples totally by hand. I ended up with about 13 quarts of raw apple slices.

I cooked them in a sugar syrup for 5 minutes, packed them into quart-sized jars and filled the jars with the syrup. My canner holds 7 quarts, so the rest of them will become apple pie tonight.

Whew! Now that the apples have been dispensed with, it’s back to the elderberries.

I had accidentally left the crockpot on low this entire time, so that batch is scorched. But I managed to can four jars of berries in syrup, for either pie or ice cream topping.

It’s now been almost a week since picking the berries. After all this work, I’m briefly questioning whether this was a foraging treasure or a foraging nightmare.


Photos property of Loretta Liefveld.

Published on Oct 22, 2018

Grit Magazine

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