Last week, a berry-stained gentleman wandered into the American Spoon store in Petoskey. He’d picked some wild blackberries in response to our ad and wasn’t quite sure where to take them. This happens fairly often during the month or so that it takes summer to fade into fall, when blackberries grow like crazy in dense thorn-studded thickets along roadsides and abandoned railroad tracks, at the edges of fields and trails, in state parks and vacant lots, and in all sorts of wild and woodsy places.
Or so I’m told. I have yet to see a wild blackberry in the actual wild, and the dozens of local foragers who bring them in by the bucketfuls are understandably tight-lipped about their favorite spots. ”Do they grow near your property?” I asked one man. “No,” he replied with a smile, and that was the end of that. I think I might have committed some sort of foraging faux pas.
Some folks return day after day and year after year with the berries they’ve collected. Jessica Kruskie, our quality control manager who has been screening wild blackberries for fifteen years, remembers a woman who used to drop off berries with her little boys in tow. As the boys got older, they’d help their mom pick berries and she’d send them in with their buckets while she waited in the van. Jessica hasn’t seen the lady in many years, but those little boys are now grown men, some of whom still bring in their own wild blackberries. I can hardly begrudge them their secret spot.
The important thing, really, is the berries. For without the berries and the foragers who share them, there would be no dark and delicious Brandied Wild Blackberries to spoon over ice cream or cheesecake or chocolate brownies, no intoxicatingly heady aroma wafting from the wine-dark jar, no spoonfuls of tiny booze-infused berries so deeply rich and decadently complex it’s tough to decide whether to gobble the whole jar up at once or savor its contents in bites almost as tiny as the berries themselves.
At this point in the year, I’m opting to slowly savor. Jessica is still sorting our wild blackberries and it will be a few weeks before the folks in our kitchen can get around to brandying them. But those Brandied Wild Blackberries are so worth the wait.