It’s the Berries!

IMG_1612“No way those are rose hips,” I exclaimed, “Those things are huge!”

We examined them more closely and I picked a few. Back in the house, I washed them off and split one open. The seeds came out easily, leaving a thick, meaty skin. I tasted it gingerly and confirmed that it was indeed a rose hip, nearly two inches in diameter.

The ones I’d seen in Colorado and elsewhere are small, sometimes a little fuzzy, and bitter on the tongue. These had a bitter taste but weren’t particularly acidic, actually relatively pleasant and flavorful. They grew on some rose-like bushes overlooking the beach where we were staying on the Oregon coast.

The coast is very moist, pleasantly cool and things grow exorbitantly. Every yard had tall hedges, flowering shrubs and the kind of flowers I only saw at the florists. The whole town hosted literal herds of feral formerly-domestic rabbits that kept the grass mowed and probably ravaged some of the plants, but it wasn’t obvious.

One of the joys of our annual summer jaunts to the Oregon coast is exploring what grows there. Obviously, the roadside vegetation is in stark contrast to what we saw on our drive there through Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Eastern Oregon. The roadside sights are primarily antelope, then the irrigated crops and volcanic expanses of lower Idaho and the rolling industrial farmlands of Eastern Oregon. Once in the Columbia River Gorge, we begin to see the dense growth on the forest floor that evokes my pity for the early explorers and trappers that had to find a way through the tangled jungle.

Things open up west of Portland where family farming takes place. Farm stands advertise the season’s offerings — blueberries, raspberries, mushrooms, plums, corn, grapes, melons and tomatoes. This year, we were too late for most of the strawberries and peaches and a little early for the best apples. We made do with corn, plums and some berries. Of course, the dried jerky of every possible species — bear, ostrich, moose, etc. — is available year-round at any given stand.

At the Tuesday farmer’s market in Cannon Beach where we stayed, the selections were also enticing. However, I did run across a couple of items I’d never seen before. There were some tiny blue berries in small cartons next to the blueberries. “Huckleberries,” said the seller. I’d had blueberries, marionberries, salmon berries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries before, but these were new to me. Tiny, slightly tart and very juicy, he recommended using them in pancakes.

I also found some weird berry-looking fruits that, with their paper-like covering, resembled tomatillos. The seller explained that they were ground cherries, “Similar to small tomatoes.” I peeled off the papery husk revealing a small green fruit that tasted similar to a sweet cherry tomato, but slightly smaller.

Of course, once I’d purchased them, I had to then determine how best to prepare and consume both of the strange fruits. The huckleberries were pretty easy to just gobble up, but I had to be strict about portions so we had some left for the pancakes. They were small and juicy enough that rather than scooping them up bare-handed, it helped to use a tea spoon.

Per the internet, the ground cherries could be substituted for tomatoes in many recipes, but it seemed they would just mask the taste. We ended up just de-husking and eating them like grapes as we sat around visiting. They would have gone well with feta and some olive oil, maybe on thinly sliced French bread, but that seemed like work. We were on vacation and they were exquisite just as they were.

When I was younger, vacations always seemed like a time to do new and strange things. Explore exotic places and find challenging adventures. In my hard-earned wisdom (or maybe just advanced age), I can take pleasure in experiencing the strange and exotic in as simple a way as discovering something new at the farmer’s market, or maybe just picked off that bush in the corner of the yard.

And to be sure, those huckleberry pancakes were fine eating. That’s one experience I’ll gladly repeat.

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