Wild Red Raspberry

red_raspberry1Each summer we visit family in the Colorado Rockies, where it’s tradition to kick off the trip with a walk up to the same overlook, a place we dubbed the “Bear’s Lair” more than a decade ago after spooking a bear from its fern-matted day bed nearby.

The route to the Bear’s Lair follows an old hunter’s jeep track up a ridge through oak scrub and aspen glades, finally topping out on a knoll covered in spruce and lodgepole pine. Sadly, the large pines are all dead now, victims of the pine beetle epidemic that’s ravaged Colorado in recent years, and the forest doesn’t offer the same respite from the sun that it once did. But the woods are still painted in wildflowers and home to a herd of elk that moves quietly among the hidden meadows and quaking aspens. From there a quick scramble up a dry, dusty slope and over big boulders takes us to the Lair. A single Douglas fir twists out of the rocks and shades the place. We sit up there and admire the view back across the valley. Sometimes we spot golden eagles circling high in the thermals above.

I’ve hiked to the Bear’s Lair countless times in summer and snowshoed up in winter. It’s become a ritual to pay our respects here. Yet, on this trip, for the first time, I noticed a nice little patch of wild red raspberries growing from cracks in the rocks right around the base of the Lair, in perfect fruit. How had I missed these before? Could they have just gotten a foothold?

More to the point: Who doesn’t love raspberries? Sweet, tart, soft, delicate. Ruby red. I’m more familiar with the blackcap raspberry (Rubus leucodermis), which we find back at home in sunny spots on both sides of the Cascades, often in areas of disturbance such as logging clearcuts. Blackcaps are dark blue or purple and often mistaken for blackberries; the more widely known form, Rubus strigosus (or Rubus idaeus among those who consider Eurpopean and North American red raspberries to be the same species) looks very much like a typical cultivated variety, if a bit smaller. Unlike a lot of domesticated fruits and berries with wild relatives, the taste of the wild raspberry is very similar to the cultivated.

Wild raspberries seem to prefer marginal habitats and tough growing conditions. As a result, it’s a rare day when I find enough of them to make a dessert or put up for later. They’re trail food—a tasty jolt of energy while hoofing it through the wilderness. And this day was no different. We ate up all the ripe berries we could find, leaving behind plenty that would be ripe for the local bruins in a few days, taking note of this cache for future visits to the Bear’s Lair.

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