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Bramble on: Foraging for blackcaps, blackberries, and raspberries


Little known fact: Robert Plant's loved brambles. Look it up. --illustration by Jamie Gowan
Little known fact: Robert Plant loved brambles. Look it up. —illustration by Jamie Gowan

Hundreds of species make up the genus of common shrubs known as brambles. No doubt you’ve been pricked by one of these thorny vines or bushes while ambling along in the Iowa wild. But in June and July (and early August, if you’re lucky), these plants make amends by bearing some of the most beloved fruits: raspberries Rubus strigosis, blackberries R. allegheniensis, and blackcaps R. occidentalis (black raspberries).

Find Them

Brambles can be found on the margins of open fields and cleared woodlands, on roadsides and along fences, in ravines and thickets, in partial or full shade. All edible bramble species bloom with clusters of greenish-white flowers in May or June.

Immature fruits will appear hard. pale and white. Leaves are deciduous and grow in groups of three to seven leaflets. Branches are thorny and commonly arch to the ground. Berries are lobe-like: Pick the blackcaps when they are indigo/black and easily detach from the vine. Ripened raspberries will appear red, and blackberries inky purple.

All three species may be enjoyed fresh. The juice from the berries stains, however, and the thorny vines mean business, so wear protection if you’d like.

Eat Them: Blackcap Pie

Crust
4 cups white flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups vegetable shortening or cold butter
1/4 cup cold water

Filling
4 cups blackcaps
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons Minute tapioca

Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl.
Cut in shortening or butter with a steel fork.
Mix water, vinegar and egg in a bowl and add to dry ingredients. Mix well — dough will be sticky.
Chill dough for a couple of hours. When ready,
Roll out dough and lay in medium pie tin. Save some dough to seal top of pie.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine berries, sugar, lemon juice and tapioca.
Pour filling into pie crust and seal top with remaining dough. Crimp edges if you think that looks cool. Make slits in top of crust and smear a little butter on for good measure.
Bake 25 Minutes, or until golden.

Tim Taranto holds a BFA in Painting from Cornell University and an MFA in Fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. This article originally appeared in Little Village Magazine issue #181.


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