July 6, 2020

Jarrett Dieterle

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Field Guide: Black Raspberries

A summertime treat that grows in hedgerows across the Midwest

Pick one, eat one. Pick one, eat one. Reach into the basket and grab a few more. What I remember most about picking wild black raspberries as a kid is that I was utterly incapable of saving any for later.

My grandmother, a retired botanist, knew the spots on our family farm where black raspberries grew in dense thickets. I snacked my way through them, trusting the adults to save a basket or two. My gluttony was hardly unique. Nearly everything with a sweet tooth has an appetite for black raspberries, including dozens of birds and critters.

The black raspberry, Rubus occidentalis, grows across eastern North America, as far south as the Gulf Coast and into Ontario and Quebec. Midwestern farm kids tend to identify them with home, though. Maybe that’s because they grow with particular intensity within the hedgerows and woods that border so many family farms in Middle America—including ours, outside Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Despite their dark, delightful flavor, which is sweeter and more complex than that of their mass-produced, ruby-red cousins, black raspberries remain charmingly rare in supermarkets. While they were domesticated by the nineteenth century, commercial production has declined in the last hundred years or so due to naturally low yields and stiff competition from more popular berries such as blackberries, blueberries, and, yes, those inferior red raspberries. You might be able to find black raspberries at a summer farmer’s market today, but your best bet is to head out to the fields, if you can, in late June, July, or early August, depending on where you are in the Midwest.

Field Guide: Black Raspberries - Quote

Nearly everything with a sweet tooth has an appetite for black raspberries, including dozens of birds and critters.

A black raspberry cobbler was always a treat for us. My grandma, like cooks in other farm families, turned much of our harvest into jam. We called it “black gold.” Our small—very small—jars were the nicest gifts we could give to friends.

Over time, I’ve learned to save my harvest. I’ve also learned to make cocktails. The smattering of black raspberries that I bring home every year now goes into boozy brambles, which are easier and less berry-intensive than jam, but equally fun to share with friends. A classic bramble gets its fruity flavor from a splash of blackberry liqueur. This variation is a clean, uncomplicated showcase for fresh black raspberries. As with the berries themselves, it’s hard to stick to just one.

Wild Black Raspberry Bramble

Wild Black Raspberry Bramble

Makes 1 drink


6-8 wild black raspberries
2 oz. vodka or gin
½-1 oz. simple syrup, to taste
1 oz. lemon juice
Splash of club soda (optional)
Mint sprig or berries, to garnish


Muddle black raspberries in a cocktail shaker with simple syrup. Add vodka or gin, and lemon juice. Shake vigorously with ice for 10-15 seconds, or until shaker is cold. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a rocks glass full of ice. Top with a splash of club soda if desired. Garnish with a mint sprig or a couple of berries.


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