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It’s berry season!

For about 150,000 years we humans have been hunter-gatherers, living a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle that follows the migrating animals and the growth of plants our bodies can eat.

Edible plants were a huge component of hunter-gatherer food, easily dried and carried, many of them lasting well into October and November after plants have gone dormant in most places. Unlike meat, dried edible plants do not easily rot, or attract nibbling animals.

Among edible plants, fruits and wild berries reign supreme.

That is because fruits and berries contain an unusual mix of carbohydrates, sugars, minerals, and vitamins, all of which are necessary for survival. Especially vitamin C, a crucial ingredient in a healthy human body (think scurvy).

The fact that wild berries taste especially sweet and supplement other foods with extra flavor is a big draw.

Sweet-tasting foods rarely occur in Nature.

Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, huckleberries, wineberries, and many others grow abundantly here in Pennsylvania and across the Eastern US.

Plains Indians like the Lakota, Pawnee, and Comanche made a mix of red meat and berries called pemmican. Ripe berries were turned into a big mush and then worked into meat strips. Usually the mixture was dried on wooden racks in the open air and sunlight, and the dried slabs and sticks were then put under the horse saddle to be worked and broken down into what we would call jerky today.

“Jerky” gets its name from the gentle jerking motion of the horse saddle, as horses step forward. The motion slowly breaks down the meat fibers, making them easily chewed and digested.

So here we are, a bunch of sedentary Americans, mostly eating out of cans and bagged frozen foods.

One antidote to this somewhat unhealthy arrangement is to go outside and do stuff.

Hike, walk, sit and read or sit and chat with someone face to face, fish, canoe, grill out, etc., so many easy outdoor activities.

A really easy outdoor activity is berry picking. Sure there are some thorns, but so what. The benefits are fresh, delicious, healthy berries that are not sprayed with chemicals, or bagged in plastic bags, or frozen. The whole family can do it. Go find a field edge, and bring some hard containers, and start picking.

Humans have been berry picking in that Summertime window of opportunity for a really long time. So long that it can be measured in ice ages come and gone, ice sheets advancing and retreating. That is a lot of years.

If we have been doing that activity for that long, you know it is good and natural. That the whole family can do it, and then make pies together afterwards, makes it all the better.

Just watch out for poison ivy!



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