Humans have long had a love affair with berries—both wild and cultivated—for their deliciousness, versatility and beauty. Native Americans first used berries in tinctures to treat pain, heart ailments and infections, and they may have even invented the first energy bar known to man—a nutrient-dense food called pemmican made from protein (most likely from elk, deer or bison), animal fat and the ever-present berry. Today, we have the privilege of easily picking up multiple varieties of seasonal berries from our markets, or harvesting them from wild patches all around Central Texas.
Yes, there can be apprehension and confusion about eating wild berries. Many, like elderberry and white mulberry, are toxic when unripe, yet perfectly edible when ripe, and some, like dewberries and cloudberries, grow almost exclusively in the wild and may not look familiar when encountered. But ask any Texan and they’ll most likely tell you there’s nothing quite like the taste of a warm, wild dewberry fresh from the vine; well worth the work of picking and the risk of encountering chiggers, snakes and thorns. Other native wild berries worthy of a day of picking are tart and earthy agarita berries, dark and sometimes bitter huckleberries and the prolific mulberry (although not considered a “true” berry by some standards).
Due to the vast landscape, varying hardiness zones and multiple microclimates here in the Lone Star State, we’re lucky enough to enjoy strawberries grown in the Hill Country west of Austin, blackberries in northern counties near Dallas and blueberries in the acidic soils of East Texas. Feel free to swap out any berry in the following recipes—there is seemingly no end to the versatility and simple heavenly deliciousness of the berry.
By Stephanie McClenny • Photography by Casey Woods