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Grim's Tales: Hail to a bumper year for wild fruit

When I was a kid, these berries may have ripened at different rates. You had strawberries for a week; juneberries for a week at the same time as blueberries, which could actually last into the fall in some places; raspberries coming at the tail end of the blueberries (lasting maybe a couple weeks); and blackberries ripening just after the raspberries. Photo Illustration

This is a bumper year for wild fruit. Never in my life have I seen the juneberries as abundant as they are right now.

Usually the trees are sparse - some with fruit, some without - and the birds are racing to get all the berries. This year I think there are too many for them and as a result they are willing to share with us humans.

Likewise, the pin cherries are abundant (and super early), the blueberries are doing fine (if not as great as three years ago) and raspberries are just starting to really pop.

When I was a kid, these berries may have ripened at different rates. You had strawberries for a week; juneberries for a week at the same time as blueberries, which could actually last into the fall in some places; raspberries coming at the tail end of the blueberries (lasting maybe a couple weeks); and blackberries ripening just after the raspberries.

This year it looks like everything but the strawberries and blackberries are ripening early and all at once, and with plenty of fruit.

I look ahead to the hazelnuts, plums, chokecherries, grapes, nannyberries and cranberries and wonder where they will fall. Will they wait until later or will they come early and surprise me also?

Even the mushrooms are all out of sorts. While hunting morels we found ample oyster mushrooms, and people around the state were finding chanterelles, puffballs and black trumpets, all late summer and fall mushrooms.

This year has reignited my enjoyment of wild foods. I have tried wild foods I have ignored in the past, including a delicious stinging nettle soup, milkweed buds, raw thistle stalks (they taste like garden peas) and pin cherries.

It's also been a challenge for me. Hunting wild food alone is not very safe, nor is it as fun as with others, but it's hard to get people together for it, even when talking about berries. It's especially hard for me to pick berries alone.

The last three years Mom was alive, we were blessed with boom crops of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. We spent hours of my limited time carefully weaving through the brush and collecting all the wild fruit we could. Then we brought it home and converted it to whatever food we felt like, or simply froze it.

When I go berry picking now (particularly blueberries), I start off strong, excited with my harvest, but by the time I have about four cups of berries, suddenly the forest gets quiet. I look around and notice how empty the woods are. At one time, this wouldn't necessarily be a negative for me, but last year when this happened it was like someone turned off the enjoyment.

I stood frozen in a pine grove last year, shin deep in blueberries with a layer of them in the bottom of my bucket, remembering several years before when we filled bucket after bucket with berries and competed for the biggest berries and fullest bucket. I think I may have actually looked at my berries and considered leaving them there. It wasn't that I was upset, but that suddenly, I just didn't care about being there or having berries in my bucket, so I left and I didn't pick any more berries that year. I think I gave the berries away.

It's for this same reason I haven't started a garden since Mom died.

Growing up, berry picking was one of my favorite things to do. I learned it from my Grandma Grimler and Great-grandma Hegstad. Likewise, I always liked gardening since watching Mom harvest delicious radishes and carrots. I planted a successful radish crop under our swing set as a child. The fact that these joys could be interrupted is amazing.

I'm getting better. I harvested a whole ice cream pail of juneberries by myself one Sunday, along with some blueberries and raspberries in separate pails, and only gave up when the flies got too bad.

This year I also have started several food plants indoors, and I have a few more on my list. Someday I'll be able to pick berries and be encouraged by the good memories, but in the meantime I plan to invite friends out to pick, because that keeps the enthusiasm alive.

Even so, I wish Mom were around to see the berries this year. I can't imagine how excited it would have made her.

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