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.