Fall is in the air as temperatures cool and there are surprises in the forest for anyone who likes to forage. I live across the street from the Tahoe Donner Cross Country trail system by Piece of Cake and Cup of Tea trails to be exact and where the journey begins for this story.
If I am not out biking on the trails, I’m hiking; on this day I was on foot. During my uphill adventure on the Dogs in Space trail I pondered the beauty of the place I call home. The mule ears and corn lilies have since turned brown; yellow and purple flowers dotted the trail. As I walked upward, I noticed red berries everywhere: on the bushes, on small trees and on plants low to the ground. I spotted a thorny-looking red fruit, which reminded me of a cross between an alien space satellite from a science fiction movie and a Hawaiian sea urchin — the kind you see while snorkeling and you don’t ever want to mistakenly touch.
I spotted a thorny-looking red fruit, which reminded me of a cross between an alien space satellite from a science-fiction movie and a Hawaiian sea urchin — the kind you see while snorkeling and don’t want to mistakenly touch.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d recently spoken to South Lake Tahoe forager Gina Woods, I would not have known what fruit had crossed my path. She mentioned that one of the berries available at this time of year is Sierra gooseberries. I sent her a photo and she confirmed that indeed I was in a field of gooseberries. It was getting late, so I made a plan to return the next day with a bag and scissors. I enlisted my friend Alison Bermant to hike with me.
It was late afternoon when we set out. With a bag over my shoulder and a pair of red scissors, we hiked the same route. Alison pointed out the abundance of yarrow growing along the trail. Yarrow, a medicinal herb, is good for a myriad of ailments, including fever, colds, hay fever, diarrhea, stomachaches and toothaches. The plant can be used to make tea, tinctures, salves and poultices. I made a mental note to pick some in the next few days to dry for tea; today I was focused on berries.
I noticed red berries hanging on some plants along the trail. I bent down to pluck one off the bush and a sharp thorn drove into my thumb. I yelped and swore. I realized I made a rookie foraging move and forgot a pair of gloves, but I was determined. I bent down and gently picked a berry. The plant also had thorns.
We gathered the red berries while I cursed some more. We attempted numerous techniques, including shaking the bush and batting the small branches with a dog chucker to free the berries to avoid being impaled. As we started to hike up a bit more, we noticed other plants with less menacing berries. I texted Gina a photo; she thinks they might be chokecherries or another type of gooseberry. I decided to come back and pick some of those, too.
Alison and I hiked 3 miles and foraged about six cups of gooseberries. I felt a number of thorns deeply lodged in my fingers and palms of my hand. Back at my house, I poured the bounty into a large silver bowl. I carefully pulled the prickly exterior skin of one of the berries apart, which revealed a green grape-like center. I squeezed it into my mouth; the fruit is sweet and delicious — perfect for jam.
Alas, I realized there is no way I am about to peel six cups of barbed berries. I took to the Internet for ways to remove the treacherous exterior of the fruit and find a recipe for jam or jelly.
There was little information available. The few sites I came across suggested boiling the fruit and mashing the cooked berries and straining the juice. I snipped off ends of the berries and picked through leaves to wash the bounty of berries. I covered the gooseberries with water and brought them to a boil, then turned down the heat to simmer them.
I mashed and strained the cooked berries through a mesh sieve. I was left with a bright pink fluid, perfect for syrup. My plan was to make jelly.
I’ll be out again this week picking berries and yarrow and making some fun things. In the meantime, happy fall foraging. Share your foraging photos and recipes at facebook.com/TheTahoeWeekly or post them at #TheTahoeWeekly. | instagram.com/thetahoeweekly
From the kitchen of Priya Hutner
6 cups of gooseberries
¼ cup lemon juiced
1½ cups organic sugar
6 tbs. pectin
Remove stems from berries and wash fruit thoroughly.
Cover berries with water in large stockpot. Bring to a boil. Turn heat and simmer on low for 1 hour.
Mash fruit, strain and return to pot. Return fruit to stove; add lemon juice, sugar and bring to a boil. Add pectin and bring the pot back to a rapid boil, stir frequently until thickened. Put into jelly jars. Let cool.
Enjoy on toast, French toast, Dutch babies or pancakes.