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The Forecast Calls for Snowberries
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NOW AWAITING A FROLIC through your senses is one of nature’s most delightful candies, a treasure so discreet that you probably pass it by during walks on the long, green path. When you are next on some mountain trail, in dense coniferous woods, or near a spruce bog, find an elegant vine with tiny, waxy leaves. Drop to your knees because here is your low-hanging fruit: a sweet wintergreen explosion known as Creeping Snowberry.
No wild food is more enchanting. Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), a northern and boreal member of the heath family (Ericaceae), dispenses its little white gifts in August and September.
Although I’m reluctant to mention them in the same sentence, Creeping Snowberry fruits resemble Tic Tac® candies. But beyond their size and shape, there is no comparison. Not even close. In the genuine article, Willy Wonka couldn’t have designed a more intoxicating experience.
The sugary dance begins as you massage the snowberry between your tongue and palate – a gentle first course of wintergreen. When the skin slips away, the soft inner fruit bursts into sugary satisfaction. It is an innocent sweetness, yet addictive enough that you will soon want another fix. But then, as the flesh (I think it’s mesocarp) fades away, the wintergreen (residing in what’s left of the skin) begins its return, like a sunrise or a spring shower (or, dare I say, the paste we ate in grade school). It is nevertheless pure wintergreen, exposing the artificial as cruelty on humanity. Seconds later the wintergreen also wanders off, like a lover on some journey. You will drop again to your knees for another tryst.
So dispense with artifice in little plastic boxes. Go eat the real thing. Go now because these fruits will soon be gone. Wintergreen by any other name would never taste as sweet.
(Postscript: By the way, do not confuse this plant with a cultivated shrub called Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), whose fruits can make you sick. Our Creeping Snowberry, the good stuff, does indeed creep close to the earth and lives strictly in coniferous woods. I sometimes brush the plant against the grain of its growth to expose the hidden – but not forbidden – fruits.)