Friday, 25 July 2014
Black Cap Raspberries
I had never heard the term "Black Cap" until someone mentioned them on this blog, and I then realized that in fact, we have quite a few of them growing in our yard! These are wild black raspberries - not blackberries* - and their presence almost makes up for the fact that our woods are not full of wild leeks, as we had once hoped for.
According to Wikipedia, they are rubus occidentalis, closely related to rubus leucodermis, a western North American variety. It is somewhat amazing to me that I have never run across them before; our cottage was surrounded by red raspberries and blackberries, and I have rambled through a lot of Ontario countryside, but somehow I had never run across these. Yet they have a range that runs from Quebec through North Dakota, and south to Arkansas and Georgia. In the past they were extremely popular and there were numerous cultivated varieties. There still are some, and apparently out west they are still grown commercially.
My interest though, is in the wild ones to be found around here. They are a plainly wild plant; extremely prickly all over with small and rather seedy fruit. The flavour is marvellous, as it so often is in "unimproved" fruits which tend to get selected for size, ease of picking, disease resistance, and in fact anything but flavour. Rubus occidentalis is said to be prone to disease, but ours have been very healthy. It is recommended to keep them away from any commercial cultivars you plant, as they may pass on diseases.
Unfortunately, they do not seem to transplant all that well, but then we always seem to do it at the wrong time of year (midsummer!) and manage to have some success. Do it in the spring or fall, and keep them well watered, and you are likely to have more success. Here is some interesting advice on how to grow them in a cultivated manner that takes into account their natural growth habits.
We have a patch that comes up by our deck in full sun, and they do very well, but most of our berries come up under the north side of a long line of spruce trees planted many years ago to mark the property line, so they tolerate quite a lot of shade. These ones produce a week or more later, and not quite so heavily as the ones in the sun, but I'm always amazed by how much they do produce. We have picked about 8 cups so far in two pickings, and I expect we have another 2 picking to go before they are over. This is, admittedly, in quite a few plants. Still, I have probably pulled off 3 cups of berries from the 3' square patch by the deck alone so even a small patch is worthwhile.
Black caps are delicious plain, right off the plant, but there are many things to do with thm. They are the basis of Chambord liqueur. Put them in pie, eat them with cream, ice cream, or custard, make jam or jelly with them, or check out my berry recipes for other ideas.
To make a liqueur of them, mash them gently and place them in a clean, sterilized jar, so as to fill it about 2/3 to 3/4 full. Cover with vodka, and close it up. Set in a cool, dark spot for a month. Strain out and discard the berries, pressing them to extract as much juice as possible. Add sugar to the resulting liqueur, tasting it until you have added just enough sugar to counteract the rough flavour of the vodka. Seal it up again in attractive, sterilized bottles, and you have a lovely gift, or treat for yourself. It should keep for at least a year.
*Blackberries are related, but they are juicier, hairless berries, and the receptacle (interior support) comes off with the berry when picked, whereas black caps are hollow when picked, and have fine hairs between the drupelets.