While looking at the three-day Labor Day weekend and all its outdoor opportunities available, I can think of a host of things I would like to do.
Of course, fishing is high on my list, as is hunting for mourning doves on opening day, Sept. 1. I have entertained thoughts of heading to the mountains and scouring my favorite ridge for blue grouse or maybe staying on the plains to hunt sharptails. Another possibility comes to my mind, however.
I have been eyeing the heavily laden buffaloberry bushes along the Bighorn and Tongue rivers. While picking buffaloberries may not be the most fun item on my proposed list of recreational activities for this weekend, there are some practical aspects I need to consider.
Based on my buffaloberry picking experience of the past 20-plus years, the best bushes are harvested by the red-winged blackbirds and grackles. I define best bushes as those that are relatively young and grow close to the water. They usually have much larger berries — about the size of small chokecherries — and are quite juicy. These berries fill my bucket much quicker than do the average buffaloberries. Whenever I can pick berries that are about twice the size of average, I like to go for them.
My second consideration is that I have some open time at the moment and the remainder of September is pretty full, so I thought that I would get some berries picked while I had the time. Besides the time factor, the recent heavy rains have undoubtedly allowed the buffaloberries to plump up so even the bushes growing in drier locales will have larger berries.
Whenever I think of buffaloberries, I reflect on how they were named. According to my deceased friend, Alma Snell, buffaloberry got its name from mountain man times. The mountain men used to overwinter with the Crow people. Crow women prepared a berry sauce that they served with buffalo meat. The mountain men grew very enamored of the berry sauce and, whenever they were served buffalo meat and there was no berry sauce, they would try to communicate that they wanted the buffalo berry sauce. After a while, the berry was called buffaloberry.
While picking buffaloberries is a chore because of the sharp thorns located at the ends of the branches, the rewards are worth it. I consider buffaloberry jelly one of the best — if not the best — wild berry jellies going. Not only is the jelly great tasting, it’s a delight to look at the deep orange color.
Making the jelly is a snap. After you have extracted the juice, measure the number of cups of liquid you have and place it into a large pot. Add an equal number of cups of sugar. No extra pectin is needed because buffaloberry has plenty of it. Stir in the sugar and bring the mix to a boil and keep stirring until reaching the jellying point. (The jellying point is defined as when the last drops of a spoonful of liquid comes off in a sheet, rather than individual drops). I find that the jellying point takes about 15 minutes of boiling to reach. I then pour the jelly into sterilized jars, place the lids and screw bands on the jars, and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
Incidentally, buffaloberry juice is quite scary to look at — it looks like orangeade laced with Ivory liquid. Buffaloberries have high amounts of saponin which gives the juice a milky hue.
By the by, the buffaloberry sauce that the Crow women made can be made today and is an excellent sauce for burgers, brats and meatloaf. I enjoy making the sauce and saving some for personal use and for gifts to special friends.
Well, the long weekend is ahead, and there’s lots to do. I hope you have a great weekend and that you will find time to pick a gallon or two of buffaloberries. If you do, I am sure you will be a buffaloberry picker for many Labor Day weekends to come.