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Berry abundant!

July 23, 2009

Sorry for the long blog silence – I was in a writing workshop at UBC (where I am starting my MFA in Creative Writing), and got kind of burnt out on writing for a while, there.
Salmonberries local wild food
In Vancouver, I stayed with friends in Kitsilano and biked up that big hill to the university every morning.  I could not help but noticing the salmonberries just dripping off the vines, glistening like red and yellow jewels, on the side of the bike path/sidewalk.  You know, you would never see that in Tofino – any berry within arm’s reach of a path is plucked away as soon as it even starts to turn colour.  But here were all these ripe berries!

And I remember that, too, from a few years ago when I was staying in West Van in June and July: all of the ripe berries hanging on the paths behind Park Royal.  So, of course I was gorging on them  – and the people who walk by there every day were looking at me like I’m a weirdo, even asking me if I was sure they weren’t poisonous.

So, early on in the writing workshop our group critiqued a piece that I had written that included references to salmonberries.  About half of my class was not from BC, so did not know what a salmonberry was.  So the next morning, I stopped on my bike to pick a little bowl-full, to share with them.  Once I slowed down to pick, I saw just how many other wild berries were right there, too – ignored by the city-dwellers.

I was picking the salmonberries for my colleagues because of my little literary reference – but, right then and there, I committed to bringing in five different types of local wild berries for my class, over five days: as a statement about wild foods, about eating local, about not wasting what is right there in front of you.

It was early July; I could see that the thimbleberries would be ripe by the end of the course, in another week, and I even found a little patch of south-facing salal bushes, a little micro-climate where they were ripening early (you don’t usually see them til well into August).
Huckleberries_LDSC_0540Over the week we ate salmonberries, then red huckleberries, then some deliciously juicy black trailing raspberries, and finally the thimbleberries and salal berries.  (As an aside, I also scored some wild plums – deliciously sweet even though they are only the size of blueberries, as well as blackberries, which grow wild now but are not native here).

So, folks, the lesson is to look around you; pay attention to the wild foods.  You won’t find them from your cars – you need to move more slowly, on foot or on your bike, and get to know the area where you live: where to find things, and when.  Looking for those microclimates is the key to extending the berry season – sheltered sunny spots for the early crop, and cooler shaded areas for the late crop (even now, there are still a few salmonberries hanging around).  Wild berries are naturally organic, they are well within the 100 mile diet and, best of all, they are free!

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