I like my driveway and try to walk up and down it at least once a day. It goes through the woods so it is shady and lined with wild native plants, trees and shrubs, as well as some invasives. There is always something new and interesting to look at. There are a large number of wild wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) shrubs lining the drive; in fact, we have to whack them back continually or they encroach upon walkers and cars. Right now they are loaded with ripe and nearly-ripe berries, mine for the picking.
This plant is a species of raspberry native to China and Japan and is also called wine raspberry and Japanese raspberry; it has naturalized here and is considered invasive in several states. I am not going to go into identifying the plant since our blog editor Ruth Dobsevage wrote about them in Connecticut a few years back and you can read about them at /item/3248/wineberries.
I will say that they look like a blackberry or raspberry shrub, they are covered with glandular hairs (stickers to me), so one should wear boots when going out to harvest. The berries, (which are actually an aggregate fruit composed of drupelets surrounding a central core) start out lime green, begin to ripen and turn from yellow to a lighter orange-red and are fully mature when they turn deep ruby red. Once you look at them you will know; go for the deepest-colored berries. And surely, when you taste them, you will definitely know since these little fruits are very tart and the dark, ripe ones are sweeter.
When harvesting, I set out with a fishing, beer coozie which has a strap so I can hang it around my neck and have my hands free to pick. I put a large cup into the coozie. Harvesting wineberries is a grazing process… I tend to eat as many out in the field as I actually gather and put into the cup. You can tell immediately if the wineberry is ready to harvest by color and by feel. If you reach for it and it is dead ripe, it will fall right off into your hand. If it resists at all-leave it, never pull-and come back in a day or two when it has fully ripened.
Wineberries are a wild food worth gathering and they are easily identified-most likely only to be confused with red or black raspberries and blackberries-all of which are safe to eat. So get on out there and pick some! Then bring them in to make this simple, yet awesome dessert: Wineberries and Blueberries in Lemon Basil Syrup, which is red, white and blue. Happy Fourth of July!