Searching High and Low

By , October 5, 2016

Monday, the three of us took a family foraging hike up one of our local mountains. We chose an upland muskeg bog as our primary goal, to finally check whether or not bog cranberries grew there. Secondarily, we sought anything edible we chose to gather. As a result, things got a little topsy-turvy.

Highbush cranberries (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

Highbush cranberries (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

At the beginning of the hike, in the lowlands, if you will, we found highbush cranberries. Many of them grew within reach, but we actually had to climb a few trees to reach the upper berry bunches. Near the summit, in the bog, we found the real cranberries, but only when we got down onto the bog’s surface and rummaged around in the moss!

Mark and Aly picking bog cranberries (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

Mark and Aly picking bog cranberries (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

Highbush cranberries, as I’ve explained before, aren’t real cranberries (see Highbush Cranberry Time). Nevertheless, they’re an essential autumn forage in our household, as we really appreciate drinking the juice hot and mulled in the winter. Besides offering a comforting treat, it provides us a lot of vitamin C when it’s not so readily available from other sources.

Little jewels among the mosses (Photo: Sarah A. Zeiger).

Little jewels among the mosses (Photo: Sarah A. Zeiger).

Bog cranberries are a much rarer treat. We first learned to pick them when we lived in Juneau, Alaska. We drove miles to the ski area on nearby Douglas Island, where we would find tiny cranberries growing on the muskeg slopes that formed the ski slopes in winter.

Bog cranberries at the edge of the bog (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

Bog cranberries at the edge of the bog (Photo: Michelle L. Zeiger).

Those cranberries were tiny, mostly smaller than BBs! To our pleasant surprise, the ones we found yesterday grow considerably larger, about the diameter of a medium sized pea at best. We gathered far more in a shorter time than we’d ever done before.

We rarely hike this mountain, or any mountain recreationally. We had a lovely autumn day, and appreciated hiking through fall colors to the sun-filled meadow near the summit. Better still, we found the berries we sought! We spent twice as much time on the project as we’d intended, but we felt it time and effort well spent.

A lovely workplace, all in all (Photo: Sarah A. Zeiger).

A lovely workplace, all in all (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

It took us about 10 years, 8 years after first seeing the bog in the wrong season, to actually find local cranberries ready to harvest. We know they grow across the Canadian border, but we’re not allowed to bring wildcrafted foods through Customs. We timed a few trips to pick berries in Juneau over the years, but never in the quantities we’d like. We never managed to get up to the local meadow before the winter’s first snows cover the ripe berries. Now, while we need to hike to get there, we at least know where to go close to home, and about when to do it.

Almost exactly half way between searching high and low, we found an excellent patch of king bolete mushrooms, which made the next morning’s breakfast extra special. We’ll process the berries over the next few days, after which we’ll feel much more prepared for the coming winter.

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