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Ripe berries taste like a pop of sunshine, even out of a grocery store box. But in Iowa, anybody can go find the real wild thing, and the taste is incredible. The only hard parts are identifying the berries and finding them before wildlife and other foragers do. Use these tips to collect your share of wild berries:
Look on public ground. A good place to look can be public parks, as it's conveniently legal for anyone to forage on public land unless specifically posted otherwise. Foraging on private land, however, is at the discretion of the owner, so make sure you ask permission if you want to check out tracts of private property.
Know the difference. Nature-fresh berries don’t usually look like the store-bought kind. Wild strawberries are itsy-bitsy comparatively, with a wealth of bright seeds all over the fruit that change color over the season. Early, the fruit may be found growing what we’d think of as upside down, with the little berries in the air. Wild raspberries are can be black or red based on the species, and again, smaller than their farm-grown brethren. Don’t worry, what both these fruits lack in size, they make up for in luscious taste.
Learn from an expert. Remember, especially if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, it’s ideal to bring a more experienced forager with you the first few times you head out to make sure you're picking the right fruits (and avoiding brushing up against poison ivy and these poisonous plants). A guidebook can also help you, but make sure you read it carefully. It's better to come home empty-handed than to eat a berry you’re “pretty sure” isn’t poisonous.
Know where to look. But humans aren’t the only ones searching for tasty treasures. Deer will happily decimate berry-bearing plants, downing a whole cluster in a bite. However, sometimes they miss what they can’t see (or just can’t get to). Little wild strawberries may hide under shaded areas (sometimes even under their own leaves) so it takes more than a glance to spot them. Try gently running your foot over the tops of suspect foliage, watching for little pops of red.
Spare yourself the spikes. With raspberries, whose spiky stems grow tangled together, you can usually find some gorgeous berries by lifting up the branches (carefully). An easy way you can avoid being spiked yourself is to wear a pair of clean rubber dishwashing gloves while picking. Speaking of spikes, wear long pants to avoid tearing up your legs!
Bring home the bounty. If you want to bring anything home from your excursion, consider bringing a stiff container to collect berries in, as this will help you avoid crushing the fragile fruits of your labor. If you want to cook or bake with what you find, remember that the volume of the cooked-down berries will diminish greatly, so you probably want to pick a lot (or bake a really tiny pie).
For more ideas, check out our Outdoor and Wild Recipes, We Love Summer in Iowa and Take It Outside boards on Pinterest.