So have you ever heard of a Wineberry before? Me neither, until I took some awesome foraging classes this last spring. They are quite unmistakable, probably one of the easiest wild edibles to identify. If you look below, this is a picture of what I saw in my class. Red stalks that are covered in stickers and clusters of buds on top. If you were to touch the buds you would notice they are slightly sticky. A very beautiful but intimidating looking plant, right? There is lots of great information about wineberries on the internet. And lots of great recipes too. They are actually a type of raspberry that was imported into the United States and quickly became an invasive species. It seems that New Jersey is one of the lucky (or unlucky depending on your perspective) places where wineberries took hold. Even though they are readily available, I highly doubt you will ever be able to purchase them in a store or farmers market. The berries are highly perishable and very fragile. To top it all off, the process of picking wineberries is unlike anything else I have ever experienced. Are they worth it? Absolutely, but you'll have to decide for yourself.
I actually sought out wineberries this year thanks to some advice from a friend. She knows just how wonderful these sticky berries are, and was kind enough to share her spot with me. If you are a forager, this is normally something that is just not done. But, I quickly learned why sharing a wineberry spot is not such a big deal.
When I arrived at her spot I noticed it was completely covered in berries, and I was so excited to find them that I jumped right in without hesitation. Now, my friend told me to wear long pants and long sleeves, which I followed, sort of. I had long pants but no long sleeves, and I decided to go with sandals for some stupid reason. Big mistake! I am now covered in scratches all over my arms and feet.
The next thing that makes foraging for wineberries uncomfortable is the stickiness of the berries. With so many berries around, using both hands is unavoidable, so be prepared for sticky and slightly itchy hands. The next component is the timing of these berries. The middle of July in New Jersey, means temperatures that can be well over 90°F, with humidity levels that make it feel like you are walking through an Amazon rainforest. At this point there are so many bugs out, you will more then likely be picking berries and swatting bugs at the same time. Doesn't that just sound like a wonderful walk in the woods? When I just couldn't take it anymore, and I was completely drenched in sweat with sticky hands, scratches from head to toe, and pulling bugs out of my hair, I ran for the car, sped home and immediately jumped in the shower, phew!
I can now say that I understand why wineberries are not sold. If I had to sell a quart of wineberries to someone I would probably charge them upwards of a hundred dollars, probably more. These berries are so delicious, but the process to get them is quite frankly worse then hell. Don't get me wrong, I had so much fun gathering these berries. There is some sort of primal satisfaction that must stem from our hunter/gather days, that make picking and eating wild edibles so rewarding. Either that, or I am just completely off my rocker.
Speaking of which, you also might be wondering why the heck I have a picture of a quarry in this post. Well, if you are local, it is a little clue to the location of our wineberry spot. Even among acres and acres of wilderness and hiking trails, New Jersey is still, Jersey. It is still a cool view though, and little boys love to watch trucks.
My head was spinning with what I should do with all these "expensive" berries. I really wanted to preserve them, but finding enough information about the levels of pectin they have was difficult. I know I have been making lots of jelly lately, but that is really how I wanted to go. The seeds in these berries aren't as bad as most, but I really just wanted the essence of wineberry to spread on my toast or crepes. My heart was set on jelly, so that's what I made.
I made up the jelly that night, but I also went the next day to grab a few more berries for one more recipe that I found online. I decided to go with some Wineberry Cordial. You can find the recipe here. And I'll be sure to let you know how it goes once it is finished. As for the jelly, it is the best I have ever made, and the taste is incomparable. Since I only have a small amount of jelly you can be sure I won't be sharing any! *Except for the jar that my friend gets for sharing her spot.
Makes a little over 1 pint
1 quart of wineberry juice (I forgot to weigh my berries - I would just collect as many as you can!)
3-4 cups of organic cane sugar
2 tablespoons commercial powdered pectin
Prepare your jars and lids. To make your winberry juice, slowly heat the berries in a large pot with 1/2 cup of water. Gently boil the berries until they becomes soft, about 5 minutes. Strain out the juice by using a fine mesh cheesecloth and hanging it up to drain completely. Place all the juice back in in a clean pot. Bring the juice to a boil and add the sugar. Stir until it dissolves. Add the pectin and boil until the juice hits the jelly set point. The metal spoon test is the best to use in this case. Fill prepared jars within 1/4 inch of the top. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.