—by Meredith Sommers, HPC Member
Jim Fruth of Pequot Lakes has been foraging for wild edibles for 35 years. He began by tapping maple trees in the spring, boiling down the liquid until it became syrup. Today he and his spouse, Esther, have a business that depends upon his foraging for ingredients and Esther’s cooking these ingredients to make jams, jellies, and syrups. Their motto is “Making life sweeter one piece of toast at a time.”
Brambleberry Farm began selling its wild products in nearby farmers’ markets in 1999. Now, in addition to daily markets, it has a store with a kitchen along highway 371, south of Pequot Lakes; and its delicious products are sold wholesale and online.
Jim knows what he is looking for as he searches the woodlands and roadsides for fruits that include chokeberries, huckleberries, raspberries, black cherries, and juneberries. A trained horticulturist, Jim finds voluptuous wild plants, “tames them, and makes them more useable.” This means that in addition to foraging, Jim grows hundreds of plants on 1.25 acres of land. These are plants that he has developed by cross-pollination, saving and sowing the seeds of the ones with the best flavor and capacity.
After Jim and his crew of youthful 4H members return from a day of picking, he and Esther spend the evening sorting and cleaning the fruits, removing sticks and leaves and little bugs who have found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The following morning, Esther pulls out the pots and begins to cook up the fruits. She experiments with combinations, adding jalapeño peppers from her garden to the raspberries or strawberries. One of the most popular jams, made of red and black raspberries, bears the name of their tiny farm, Brambleberry Jam.
Respect for all living beings is the underlying value of Brambleberry Farm. Esther says, “We seek to find ways to honor plants and animals, while getting what we need. We never take too much; we don’t want to disturb their life cycle.” When foraging, the pickers gently bend branches toward the ground, then gather the fruit into ice cream pails fastened to their belts. If they find fruits on private land, they ask the owner for permission to pick and offer jars of jam in exchange. Some property owners call the Fruths when they have wild fruits ready for the picking. It is a cooperative enterprise.
The Fruths try to live a simple and green life, but their business venture is testing the boundaries. As Esther describes their philosophy, she pulls out a jar of salsa she made the day before and gives me a sample. “I’m from San Diego,” she says. “I was raised on Mexican food, and I need it.”
The salsa gives my mouth an exhilarating sting. “Ah, this is just right!” I comment. She then shows me the 60 jars of salsa she made that morning, using tomatoes, peppers, and herbs she has grown on their acreage.
Hampden Park Co-op is currently offering Brambleberry Farm jams and syrups. My favorite is Elderberry syrup. It is delicious on top of ice cream and pancakes, especially pancakes made with pureed pumpkin or applesauce and cinnamon. In the sidebar you will find an elegant and easy dessert using elderberry syrup.The recipe is adapted from a Self-Sufficiency in Style recipe.
For more information about Brambleberry Farm, go to their Web site: www.bberryfarm.com.