July. Hottest, most humid month of the year. So put on your highest boots, long pants, and a long shirt, and head for the woods. Because July is also black raspberry season, and you’re not going to find those sweet sweet delights any other way (oh, I guess you could plant a couple of rows in the garden, but where’s the adventure in that?) In much of Appalachia, black raspberries are simply called blackberries, even though they are not. Call them Rubus occidentalis if you’re of a scientific bent; Blackcap, or Scotch Cap if you’re not. The black fruit makes them look like blackberries, but the taste is unique and not like either red raspberry (Rubus idaeus) or blackberry (Rubus fruticosus).
Don’t be fooled by the red berries on the plants. They are not the same as the red raspberry, but simply unripe berries. They’ll be a lot harder to pull off than the ripe berries anyhow, so why fight? You’ll have sore thumbs & index fingers by day’s end.
The two raspberries DO share the distinctively white underside of the leaves, and fruit that readily detaches from the carpel. One big difference between the two is that black raspberry’s stems are more thorny.
So throw a rope over your shoulder to hold your berry bucket. You may be tempted to skip the heavy clothing and the fancy sling, but if you do you’ll have hell to pay. Raspberry’s arching canes typically reach 3 to 5 feet high, forming dense, tangled, thorny thickets. Canes readily root at the tips when they contact the ground. You’re going to need both hands to extricate yourself from them.
And the boots? Well, copperheads and diamondback rattlesnakes love to loll on sun-warmed rock slabs in wooded clearings, and they just will not take kindly to you interrupting their sessions.
Resist eating your all your finds before you get home! There’s no Appalachian summer meal finer than fresh sweet corn, green beans, and a salad with homegrown tomatoes, all finished off by a fresh-from-the-oven, topped-with-vanilla-ice-cream, black raspberry cobbler!