There are many things that cannot be done when one is a child, but there are a few, and berry picking is among them.
I think it might have started out as a way for Mom to keep my Sister and I occupied when we went to fell trees for firewood. Woodcutting is time consuming business and of course, not on the list of “items for small children to help with”.
Our trips of old always began with the windows down for air circulation and quiet hopes and prayers that the truck wouldn’t overheat before we got where we were going-we squished all four of us in the dusty family truck and left from Cobalt Station further into the woods in search of dead trees.
The spring water run off areas, or what the Forest Service termed “roads,” kept the going slow enough that we sometimes ended up with gusts of exhaust filling the cab. I was known for getting carsick so I usually got the window seat. This allowed me to drape my arm and sometimes head out the open window like a last sardine who simply refused to resign itself to the can. The smell of hot pickup truck interspersed with pines all part of the outing.
Mom and Dad stopped occasionally looking for trees the size they needed. After an interminable time in my “sardine in need of escape mode,” Mom and Dad would declare that we had found what we needed and breakout was possible.
I started walking immediately to dispel the headache being in any vehicle caused. It was better than “tossing my cookies”, but still seemed a bit of unfair gene inheritance. The family dog, Sunset, jumped from the back of the truck and started sniffing for vermin to chase. Dad hauled his chainsaw from the truck and Mom gave us instructions.
After Mom’s required lecture on how to remember not to get lost forever or get killed by falling trees, we got turned loose with a measuring cup from the kitchen, the hunt for berries was on! My sister was the keeper of said cup, seeing as how she was older and wiser, (or so she claimed) so we split up to look for berries-then worked together once they were found. The strawberries were about as big as your pinkie finger, but they were full of enough flavor to fill a berry 4 times their size. All we needed was one cup…
Getting firewood and berry picking was part of our family culture growing up. The berry muffins were always amazing and the perfect reward for diligently picking sweet little forest gems.
This was something that was never repeated once we moved from Cobalt Ranger station when I was 11. Our new home wasn’t high in the mountains and the forest there wasn’t full of wild berries. This part of my culture got a bit lost in the recesses of my mind for quite a few years.
Then last spring when I returned to Cobalt I realized that many things I had simply thought to be a lost bit of sweetness in my past didn’t need to stay lost. Thanks to my Sister who still has the recipe we used for those muffins (still older and wiser I guess)and to a friend who adores the forest as much as I do; this summer I was able to reclaim some of my heritage and to share it with my daughter as well.
No matter how busy life was, last summer we took one day a week and piled all the kids together and went out to the woods. Things rarely progressed as we planned but we never failed to have a great time.
In an attempt to find huckleberries, my friend and I planned an outing and packed lunch. We drove out of town and then turned off onto an old road that went over the mountain. Since the going was slow- we tossed the kids in the back of my friend’s truck and off we bumped.
We stopped multiple times, looking at the shrubbery to see if we had found what we were looking for. We were a bit disappointed to find plants, but no berries. We paused for lunch and then wandered through the forest away from the road, and our little hike was rewarded!
One of the kids found a ripe huckleberry and then another. I paused to smile and found, surrounding me, wild strawberries. The boys started eating every berry they could wrap their fingers around while the girls meticulously picked and saved.
Kids talked and laughed, the buzz of forest bugs and chatter of chipmunks blended with the sound of the pine trees. It was a perfect day in the forest and calmed my spirit. The kids had a wonderful time, got dirty and berry stained, conquered a few rocks, tried to get us to drive faster over ruts and bumps when they were in the back of the truck and of course, picked enough berries for one batch of muffins.
There are many things that I can’t eat now but this recipe works the same if you need to substitute gluten free flour, vegan butter, coconut milk or anything else like that. Its simplicity allows it to be flexible.
Mountain Berry Muffins
1 7/8 Cup flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 Tbs-1/2 cup sugar (you can substitute maple sugar or granulated honey)
1 Cup milk
¼ cup melted butter
*Combine the egg, milk and melted butter and mix. Sift together dry ingredients and add to the wet ingredients-mixing gently.
*Mix one cup of berries with ¼ cup of flower and then fold into the batter. Line muffin tin with paper or lightly oil, then fill cups 2/3 full.
*Heat oven to 400 degrees and put muffins in for 10 minutes. Then sprinkle with maple sugar or raw sugar and put back in for 5 minutes (optional).