Whether harvested from the wild, cultivated in a garden, or purchased at the market, these four woodland native berries are sure to bring back some fond memories.
In French, berries are known as "baies," but are sometimes referred to as "petits fruits" (little fruits) or "fruit des bois" (fruits of the woods). Berries grow naturally in the woodlands and include many species like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Wild or cultivated, these are part of my childhood memories in Québec and adult life in Australia. When I moved to Batlow and Tumbarumba, I heard the word berries more than ever before as growers surrounded me, and I also started to cultivate my own in the backyard. In this cool climate zone on the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, they thrive as successfully as they do in North America. They are harvested from December to April, depending on variety.
STRAWBERRIES AND BLUEBERRIES
One is red, and one is blue. One is heart-shaped with a texture of outside apparent seeds called achene, and one is rounded with a protective powdery coating called the bloom. They have different tastes and looks but marry perfectly as plants and fruit. Québec people are very fond of both. We find them in the wild and locally in summer markets, and this is always a blessing after months of winter, where we can only purchase them frozen or imported. Now that I live in a berry-growing region in Australia, I am more than spoiled with them all through summer from December to April, and all year long with fruit in the freezer.
Picking strawberries and blueberries • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021-23
"Les fraises du Québec" (Québec Strawberries) are probably the most awaited summer fruit in local markets and they come first in June! They are amazingly aromatic, and the redness inside the fruit is unbeatable. I have many great memories of picking strawberries as a child in a pick-your-own berry farm and the wild. The farmed strawberries we used to go picking are big and juicy and grown with green and natural principles. In 2023, I returned to the Fruitière Nadeau farm in the village where I grew up and was so impressed with the quality of their fruit and the popularity of the pick-your-own activity that kept on. My other good memories of strawberries were at our family cottage in summer. My grandmother was macerating strawberries with sugar for hours before serving them with cream or ice cream. I loved it, especially the sweet juice in the bottom of the bowl. We also picked the wild ones in a meadow of a young forest near the chalet. We call them "petites fraises des champs" (little field strawberries) or "fraise des bois" (woodland strawberries), which are the alpine type, tiny but so tasty. Some very keen folks make jams with them!
Farmed, homegrown and wild strawberries • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2023
The "bleuets" (blueberries) are a little gem from Québec and occupy the number one organic fruit produced and exported. Canada is the second largest commercial producer of blueberries after the United States. The cultivated varieties are high-bushes with larger fruits than the wild ones, which grow on low-bushes plants. The hot spot for blueberries is the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region, which all started following massive wildfires that devastated the area in 1870. Blueberries always thrive in boreal forest undergrowth, but so much more after woodlands are cleared or burnt. The wild plants benefit from the tree ashes and will produce for years. I still struggle to find the best spot for my blueberry bushes in the garden, but I'm getting there with a producing plant mulched with pine needles. They are a bit fussier than the other berries as they need soil that is pH ultra-acidic. I have not yet shared many blueberry recipes as we always end up snacking on them fresh. However, I freeze some for smoothies and various desserts in the trial. They are also great as dried fruit, which can be used in bakeries like bagels. I am still working on that recipe; now I know the secret to a perfect Blueberry Bagel like they do in Montreal! Blueberry pies and muffins are classics, and the fruit always pairs well with lemon, honey and maple syrup!
Blueberry cooking and snacking • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2023
As for blueberries in Australia, the Tumbarumba region is surrounded by vineyards and blueberry farms (and other fruits and nuts). Pickers from around the globe come to do harvesting work here. There is one certified organic farm near us and the Bago State forest plantations that offers the "pick your own" experience. We visited Laurel Hill Blueberry Farm a year after the Dunn's Road Bushfire disaster and went for a picking and photo session. In the post-fire and pandemic years, I offered some free photo sessions to the most affected growers of our region. I was building up a portfolio and this blog, but I felt it was an excellent exchange to swap some shots with a farm visit. Everyone had heartbreaking and thrilling stories about their fire experience, and I think it was important for everyone to share and to listen, especially in such an isolating time. Since then, we have made some excellent connections and joined the new Batlow Tumbarumba Growers Network.
Post fires blueberries • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021
BLACKBERRIES AND RASPBERRIES
The blackberry and raspberry are two varieties of sweet, nutritious fruit composed of little juicy bubbles containing seeds called drupelets. Both come from a large and diverse flowering plant in the rose family, the Rosaceae. Growing best in cool climate regions, they are opportunistic plants from various continents, but not Australia. Blackberries were introduced in New South Wales about 180 years ago and quickly were considered a significant weed. They are everywhere in fields and woods, and we often pull some out of our garden. My husband's mum reckons that wild blackberries are the best for making jams, and she is right because her Batlow Clearstream's Farm wild blackberry jam has been her most popular variety for years! She cultivates multiple berries, including Boysenberry (a cross between raspberry, blackberry, and loganberry) and the most giant-jumbo raspberries I've ever seen! Foraging wild blackberries has been a long-time passion for her, and in my first years in Australia, when living on the farm, I followed most of the picking adventures... and ouch those thorns! I've also learned to watch where I put my feet and watch for ants... and snakes! Today, most of the vines invading the farm were removed for biological and bushfire safety matters (and we were lucky we did). As wild blackberry jam is a favourite variety for many, she still has unique access to a safe and chemical-free location for picking and to satisfy her customers with a fair good supply of jam.
Organic berries and homemade jams • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2019
In our Tumba backyard, we have a little row of raspberries along a path that we snack on when passing by. The berries we get from the farm mostly go in the freezer as they are highly perishable and make great smoothies and other recipes that can be used all year. Blackberries and raspberries have distinct tastes but can be prepared similarly for desserts and jams. The blackberry fruit is a little more tart, especially the wild ones, so they can be added to savoury meals like pizzas, salads, sauces, etc. As for raspberries, there is nothing better than to nibble on them fresh but I also like making yoghurt topping, infused vinegar, and freezing some in ice cubes for summer drinks. My favourite dessert with both berries is a "fruit picker" version of the Canadian traditional pudding cake called "Pouding chômeur". If you live in a suitable climate, raspberries and blackberries are easy and hardy perennial plants (but, as said, also invasive). Controlling the plants with pruning and using thick gloves is crucial as the woody stems are thorny. The raspberries are straight canes that crop in summer and autumn (or sometimes throughout the season). Blackberry varieties, like the boysenberry, crop in early summer and the wild blackberries in late summer.
Raspberry picking days, happy days • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021-23
Fresh raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries can all be enjoyed together in mid-summer, and I can easily source enough of them to make preserves. I was inspired to develop a mixed berry jam, the Forest Berry Jam, that also wears its name with conifer tips or rosemary flavours added to it. Any berry jams can go in my Oat Berry Jammys. These are soft thumbprint cookies inspired by the "Gallettes St-Methode", a bakery near our family cottage in Québec. They no longer produce the cookies, so I thought reproducing the recipe would be great, as I know some are big fans! Berry fruits are full of antioxidants, vitamin C, and fibres and can be bought locally, in local fruit markets, if you don't grow your own. If you do, you'll likely have them coming out of your ears and pick them up daily. Berries are at their best freshness on the first day, but they will store well in the fridge for a few more days. Freezing them is an excellent option, as you can use them later to cook desserts like pies, muffins or pudding cakes. Making a smoothie drink or a Berry Smoothie Bowl with frozen berries is one of my favourite things. You can do much more to preserve them, like dehydrated fruit leathers, berry syrup, chutney, vinegar, and wine!
Berry recipes and photography • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2022-23
The recipes mentioned above are published in the December 2023 issue of ABC Organic Gardener Magazine, with a version of the Forest Berry Jam on the cover! Find issue #146 here if it is unavailable in-store, and go to the Organic Harvest section to find the recipes.
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