It is Raspberry harvesting time or at least my bushes are telling me that. With that comes the need to attend to the bounty in a sustainable fashion – at least as sustainable as we each have the ability for in our lives at this point and time. So I will go through some simple harvesting tips and methods for storage.
Harvesting raspberries is easy and doesn’t take that long once you get well practiced at it and know how to move through your bushes quickly. The raspberries (drupelets) will give you indicators on when they are ready, which I will go over – but ultimately to be good and fast at harvesting it comes down to experience, feel, sight and taste
Is my receptacle showing?
First thing you want to look and see if the white core (receptacle) is showing just at the base (see the picture to the right) – it is literally the raspberry pulling away from the core as it nears its final stage of growth and getting ready to drop and start the seeding process – which in part is enticing an animal like yourself to eat it so that it can be seeded elsewhere (that’s if we poop’d outside in/on the ground). However, the white core showing is not an ultimate indicator of readiness, another thing to check is if the berry is all red.
Am I turning Red?
If the berry is not all red then it is a judgement call on your part on if it is ready, the only way to really make that call is experience. You’re gonna have to do some field testing – pop it off and see how it tastes. Get a feel for how the raspberry looks and how it tastes – you may find the flavor sweet/bitter/other depending on how much of the raspberry is not red. You may find that really ripe raspberries have turned from that pretty bright shade of red to a darker red almost purple tinted – this is likely not going to have that raspberry flavor you are looking for, but it still has good use for harvesting.
Plump and firm
Up to this point we have been relying primarily on visual indicators – receptacle and color. Another step in determining if the berry is ready to pick is it’s firmness and how juicy it feels. You don’t want the hard berries – those are typically very sour and just need some more time to get nice and juicy. What you want to do is take your index, middle finger and your thumb and position them as if you are going to pick the berry (see picture to right). You should be able to feel if it if its soft/firm/hard/squishy/etc, be gentle you don’t want to juice the berry in your fingers. Your gonna want to do some more sampling here, make a mental note of how firm the berry is in relation to its taste – figure out what you like and how you like it.
Picking your berry
So now that you have a good idea of the type of berry you like – readiness, color, plumpness, etc – it’s time to pick your berry. Using the technique used to check the firmness/plumpness of your berry you want to just gently pull the berry off the core (see picture to right). I say be gentle because even if all the other steps above proved that you have a ripe ready berry it doesn’t mean that it will come off easy – sometimes it may look really ready and yet it holds on still a bit. If it holds on then be sure and use your other hand to hold the base stem (sepal) attached to the core so you don’t pull off the other berries on that same grouping. In general if it is ready it should come off with one hand and minimal effort. When done you should have a beautifully intact raspberry and a clean white core left on the bush (see pictures to right).
Prep and Store
Now that you have your raspberries harvested you will want to clean them in a cool gentle water bath, don’t use a sprayer unless it is really gentle – hard water can squish the berries if your not careful. I recommend filling up your sink with enough cool cold water to cover the berries, gently dump your berries into the water, let soak for a little while, clean out the debris that floats to the top and any not so good raspberries that got in. Your gonna want your compost bucket near and probably a tall glass jar for saving any little critters that ended up in your harvest – be sure and take them back out to your raspberry beds or other location so that they can continue with their lives. Once your raspberries are clean and ready you will want to proceed to storing them – there are several methods like putting them in the fridge, making jelly, freezing, drying, etc. I do a combination of them – I first take the berries out and place them on some little towel lined racks for drying out a bit. Then I sort through the berries and select out the very best shaped and colored ones for putting into my Excalibur dryer and drying out – ideally I would be using hybrid sun/electric drying racks, but that is a project I have not got to yet. The ones that are a little less nicely formed, lack the color I want or other I put into a reusable glass jar and store in the fridge for making jelly. I store in the fridge because I may not have enough from one harvest to make a full batch of jelly – sometimes I will store in freezer if I know it will be a while before I make jelly. Another thing you can do is puree the not so perfect berries and make fruit leathers in your dryer. You can also put them right into a cobbler or other baked goodie, make some raspberry viniagrette, etc… Your only limited by your creativity and means of storage.
I do want to make a special point here about drying and storing – this is by far the most sustainable method of food preservation and the most healthy. When food is dried correctly it will retain the live enzymes needed in healthy food, in addition because of it’s reduced water content it will last for long periods of time. One additional step I take in storing my dried goods is vacuum canning, it allows me the maximum shelf life of my goods, uses all reusable containers, extremely sustainable, and is a method that I understand to date back before the Egyptians and even astronauts use it – this is a tried and true method of sustainable food preservation. I will work on creating a post about this method later on, which will include my tools and methods.
I found these sites to be of interest in regards to raspberries, maybe you’ll find something of interest here too.
OHSU Extension – Gardening <– There calendars provide useful tips on caring/harvest/etc for raspberries and other garden foods.