There is no sweeter bounty than ripe berries freshly picked under the summer sun. Growing up, many an afternoon was spent picking berries from our garden, our grandparent’s farm, friends and neighbours, and out in the wild. No matter how hot and sweaty or prickly the task, berry picking was always seen as a pastime – rather than a chore – because of the sweet rewards.
Not only would your tummy fill at relatively the same pace as your bucket, but the harvest you did manage to bring home to mom would always be elevated to greater epicurean heights; transformed into Strawberry Shortcake, Rasberry Jam, Saskatoon Berry Pie, or Blueberry Muffins.
Now that I’m the one crafting the jams and pies, I find I have much more self-control over eating my harvest before it gets to the kitchen. However, the sentiment remains. There is just something so pleasurable about connecting with your food; getting to hand select your own berries, having them “reveal” themselves to you in the wild, the thrill of each juicy discovery, the satisfaction as your treasures add up, witnessing the magic and beauty of nature and appreciating being outdoors – it all adds up to the perfect day. The yield of your efforts is really just the cherry on top! If you haven’t experienced this for yourself, we encourage you to give it a try. It might just become your new favourite pastime!
Also, I swear the fruit tastes better when you pick it yourself. Studies have shown that persons who handle and prepare their own foods digest it better than those who do not because when your body comes in contact with the food it starts producing the enzymes needed to break it down. Cool! So get out there and discover a whole new way to have a relationship with your food. At the very least, you will have a new found appreciation of the effort involved in getting those little clamshells of berries to the marketplace.
Tips on Berry Picking For The Win:
Preparedness – proper planning is the difference between a wonderful day out or a potential flop.
- Know when and where you’re going in advance. Do some research on when different fruits are in season, where good berry patches are located, and where you are allowed to harvest, such as public lands. Winging it can often result in disappointment.
- Bring lots of water, even if it’s not a hot day. Many berries are diuretics so you don’t want to dehydrate if you’re indulging.
- Pack extra buckets, you don’t want to be kicking yourself if you hit the jackpot.
Safety – goes without saying, safety first.
- If you are inexperienced, a good place to start is a U-pick farm or go out with an experienced forager into the wild so you don’t end up picking something poisonous or rubbing up against Stinging Nettles or Poison Ivy.
- In the wild, remember you are not the only creature with a taste for berries. Bears will be out taking advantage as well, so wear a bear bell, go in a group and keep bear spray at hand.
- Be aware of your surroundings. It’s easy to get drawn into the siren call of the berries and let the world fall away around you, but keep an eye out. You don’t want to accidentally get stung by a bee, step in an anthill, stabbed by brambles, or walk off a cliff! If you are hiking into woods or straying from the path, know your directions so you don’t become lost.
- If you suffer from allergies, this is a trip to bring antihistamines or your Epipen along because you never know what kind of pollens, insects, or allergens you may encounter.
- Avoid the 4 R’s: Roadways, Railroads, Right of ways (power lines, etc) and Residences. These places will likely be contaminated.
Gear – no need to be fancy, just comfortable.
- Long Sleeves and pants will prevent sunburn and keep scratchy thorns at bay.
- Tall socks and boots will do the same and prevent bitey bugs from getting at you as well. Tuck your pants into your socks if you are in an area with ticks. Rubber boots that cinch up and tie around the legs are best because they prevent bugs and brambles from falling in.
- A hat is always a good idea and tied back hair.
- A bucket with a handle, tied to a belt around your waist will give you a comfortable, hands-free solution for your berry storage. Bring multiple buckets for multiple varieties of berries. Recycled ice cream pails are perfect, I’ve even used a champagne bucket!
- Water bottles that can clip onto your belt are nice and easy.
- Hand sanitizer and wipes are handy for staying hygienic if you are out for the day without hand washing facilities. (Remember you are handling food)
- Plastic bags for any waste.
- If you are venturing into the wilderness, always good to take bear spray, a knife, a compass, a lighter, and some coloured ribbon to mark your way back if you are going off the path. Better safe than sorry.
Sustainability and Ethics – be conscious and responsible.
- Always follow the law and only pick berries where you are allowed to do so.
- If you are foraging in the wild, a good rule of thumb is to only pick about 10% of what you see. Leave plenty for the other people and animals to enjoy, as well for the plant to reproduce.
- Tread lightly. While you are keeping an eye out for ant hills, also watch your step so you aren’t trampling the delicate young vegetation underfoot. Try to step between plants, rather than just blindly walking ahead to the next berry bush.
- Pack out what you pack in. Both nature and a U-Pick farm won’t appreciate you leaving litter behind.