Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For August 13th, 2010 Edition.
For the first time in nearly a decade the northwoods is experiencing a summer season with weather conditions conducive to the production of wild berries and fruit. We avoided the usual frost killing nights this spring when the blueberry bushes were blooming, rainfall eventually came in generous amounts and Old Sol has kept the temperature in the correct zones.
Juneberries were ripe by early July, which allowed many of our wild birds to feast on the juicy purple berries along with berry lovers like myself. Many folks mistake Juneberry shrubs for wild cherry trees. Juneberry blossoms normally begin to appear somewhere between mid April and early May, depending on how early or late spring arrives. This fruit-bearing tree is the first shrub to blossom each spring.
We have three different types of wild cherry trees, pin cherry, black cherry and chokecherry, all of which can be easily distinguished by a different shaped leaf. When ripe, pin cherries are fire engine red and taste very sour. Be sure to spit out the small pits after you savor their mouth puckering pulp.
Black cherries are somewhat larger than pin cherries and reach a deep purple color when ripe. They are much more palatable than their smaller cousins and much more pleasant to the taste buds. They make excellent home made wine and are very high on our native songbirds list of good things to eat.
Chokecherries are aptly named, as "choke" is what most folks do when they try those obnoxious tasting chokecherries. However, I've been told they also make fair to middlin' wine, although my personal efforts to convert chokecherries to that type of alcoholic beverage failed miserably.
The five most popular wild berries that grow in the northwoods are strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and cranberries. During my formative years Grandma Jorgensen spent summers at the Anderson homestead and it was Edna who attempted to mold her grandson into a mobile berry picker. But alas - grandma's efforts to do so turned out about as well as my efforts to convert chokecherries to drinkable wine.
During the time I refer to as my formative years, the northwoods was a totally different environment than we live in today. I specifically refer to the landscape that was present during the 1930s, 40s and 50s compared to what is present in this day and age. Back then the area was struggling to replace the timber that was removed during the four previous decades. Much of the north contained vast open areas where native berry and fruit bearing plants and shrubs could thrive in a perfect berry-producing environment. Today, forests have reclaimed nearly all those once open areas that formally produced bumper berry crops.
Grandma Jorgensen was a berry-picking machine! Her ethnic makeup was Swede/Laplander and she never quite mastered English, but produced a perfect Scandinavian dialect when speaking. "W's" were pronounced as a "V" sound and visa-versa. One of her sons, Victor from Wisconsin Rapids came out of grandma's mouth as "Wictor from Visconsin Rapids." God, I loved that woman!
Grandma, decked out in her traditional ankle high home-made dress, black leather lace up shoes and heavy cotton stockings would tie a rope around her waist to hold her berry picking bucket and head out for an afternoon of berry harvesting. I begrudgingly stumbled along behind wishing I would rather be fishing for perch and sunfish off my folk's dock.
Wild strawberries ripen first. These small red fruit grow on ground hugging plants that can only be attacked by crawling on your hands and knees or in a sitting position. But not grandma Edna! She had a hinge in her back that allowed her to bend over at about 120 degrees and pluck those tasty strawberries off their vines as though her fingers were suction cups! Within an hour her two-quart bucket would be overflowing and my pint-sized container hardly had its bottom covered. My fingers moved more like Popsicle sticks.
Grandma often looked sadly at my efforts and chided me by saying, "My stars child, you sure are clumsy." Grandma always called a spade a spade.
After strawberry season blueberry season followed, then raspberry season and finally blackberry season. The only berry season I took a small liking to was blackberry season, partly because I could stand up and harvest those plump, juicy, tasty berries and hunting season started shortly after blackberry season. Grandma didn't hunt.
For our (her) efforts, many jars of jams and jellies were produced as well as canned berries to be used as pie filling and desserts during the winter months. All grandmas finished products were lined up on shelves in our root cellar, which was located under our log cabin. (Betty Crocker - eat your heart out!)
Grandma never took part in the actual harvesting of wild cranberries due to the fact harvesters needed to wear water proof boots and Edna declined to don such footwear. Dad, mom and I, plus our black cocker spaniel, Pat, waded into Big Duck Lake Swamp to harvest those sour tasting wild cranberries - after which grandma Edna converted them to jams and jellies and canned a few for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
Often, during our berry harvesting, I also served a secondary role. Our route in search of ripe fruit followed on old logging railroad grade that meandered through my folk's 120 acres along Lost Creek. Besides my berry bucket I also was required to carry a pitchfork and two twelve quart metal buckets.
Grandma's sharp eyes often located lumps of coal that had fallen off the locomotive coal car. These were plucked from the earth along the right of way and deposited in one of the buckets, which dad would come for later in his 1941 Chevy pick-up. This bonus treasure would really help heat up the kitchen stove during the winter months when the thermometer dipped into the minus 30s and 40s.
A secondary item that Edna honed in on was pine knots buried in the topsoil. These pine pitch soaked knots were once limbs from the crowns of mighty pine trees that were left on the forest floor during the lumbering era. As the trunks rotted away the internal knots were spared due to the high volume of pine pitch they contained. It was my job to pry those sweet potatoes sized knots out of the ground with the pitchfork and place them in bucket number two.
Even now, during cold winter nights - if I try real hard - I can still smell the sweet aroma of pine knots snapping and popping in our small cast iron stove I enjoyed during my formative years, and see grandma Jorgensen knitting me a new pair of wool socks as she gently rocked back and forth in her favorite rocking chair.
God - I loved that woman!
Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin. Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean, both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide. Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email: email@example.com or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.
Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here
Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger
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