Pruning Raspberries

I’m writing about this because I know next to nothing about plants, or how they germinate and grow and proliferate.  Really.  Almost nothing.  This week I learned a few simple guidelines for maintaining raspberry bushes that made a mark on my neophyte mind.

When we moved into our house about a year ago we inherited no less than three raspberry stands.  I’m not sure of the variety, but based on descriptions I’ve read I would guess they are Boyne raspberries.

Raspberries grow on stalks called canes.  Over the winter I often pondered the canes standing in my backyard.  Were they dead?  Dormant?  Would they produce fruit next year?  Did I need to do anything to care for them?

Whatever the variety of my raspberries, they are definitely floricanes.  This means that they produce fruit only on the canes that grew last year.  In other words, a cane grew from the ground last summer, went dormant over the winter, and will produce fruit this year.  Hopefully, while that cane is producing fruit this year, another cane will be growing right beside it that will be able to fruit next summer.  After a floricane stalk produces fruit it dies with the frost.

The old leaves and receptacle from last year's raspberries

I can tell my berries are floricanes because the canes that produced fruit last year are now dead.  To identify last year’s fruiting canes, I look for the star-shaped leaves and withered receptacles where the raspberries once were (blurry photo at left).  Last year’s fruiting canes also have a pale, parched colour and no leaves, while this year’s fruiting canes are a bit more brown and roan coloured, and at this time of year are producing leaves.

I believe you can avoid the entire ordeal of figuring out which canes are dead and which are live by pruning right after the plants produce fruit in late summer.  However, the Alberta Agriculture website says that it is beneficial to leave the dead canes standing over the winter as they protect the dormant canes, like a snow fence.  I’m sure it doesn’t matter either way.

The crown of a raspberry plants, with the pruned canes of year's past

Once I’ve identified a dead cane, I follow it to the ground.  Since this is an old raspberry patch, there’s a small conglomerate of cane stumps where almost a decade’s worth of fruiting canes were cut off.  This is called the crown of the plant.  Sure enough there is always another cane extending from the crown, a cane that grew last year, and will therefore fruit this year.

Besides removing the dead canes at the crown, I also cut back a few of the live canes that seemed to have dead tips, and staked up a couple particularly floppy ones.

In addition to floricanes there are primocane raspberries, sometimes called everbearing raspberries.  Everbearing raspberries produce fruit on canes that have grown that same year, but only on the very tip of the cane.  The plants go dormant over the winter, and the following spring they fruit again, this time lower down the cane.  Though primocanes were designed to lengthen the harvest period in this manner, fruit yield is actually higher if you prune the canes down after harvesting the first fruit from the tip of the cane.

That’s everything that I know about growing raspberries.  I’m much more adept at eating, fermenting, and drinking them.  More on that later in the year.

 

Pruning Raspberries: Review Questions

  1. What do we call the stalks on which raspberries grow?
  2. What is the crown of the raspberry plant?  Where is it located?
  3. What are the differences between floricane and primocane raspberries?
  4. (Bonus Question) What is the German word for “raspberry”?  What does it mean, and why do you suppose the plant was given this name?  The answer is buried in this post.

2010 Raspberry Mead, in 2012

A three year old bottle of raspberry mead, aka raspberry melomelIt’s been almost two years since I combined some Onoway honey with crushed, frozen u-pick raspberries and added a bit of yeast to the mix.  (The photo at left shows a label reading “Rasp. Melomel 2009”.  That’s a mistake in my cellar bookkeeping: it’s definitely from 2010.)  It was one of the first fermented drinks I made that wasn’t based on a kit of grape must or malt wort.

I had no idea what I was doing.

I was using a recipe from The Winemaker’s Recipe Handbook by Raymond Massaccesi, a book that I have not used since.  Most of the recipes in the book are a syrup of water and refined sugar, flavoured with fresh fruit, pH-adjusted with tartaric acid, sterilized with campden tablets (sodium or potassium metabisulphite), then fermented with packaged yeast.

Kevin’s posts on saskatoon wine opened my eyes to a flavour-based, common-sense approach to fruit wine.  Why would you dilute fruit juice with water?  If we didn’t dilute the fruit with water, there would be a higher concentration of sugar and acid, and we wouldn’t need to add refined sugar and powdered pH-adjusters.

I was a good way from asking myself any of these questions when I started this raspberry mead.

After a few weeks of fermentation, when I tasted the mead I found it was completely dry -not a drop of residual sugar.  It broke my heart.  Again, I didn’t know much about the fermentation process, and I assumed that since I was fermenting honey, the final drink would be sweet.  Now I understand that the fermentation has to be arrested in some way, (bottling, fortification, et c), for there to be sweetness in the final product.  Or sweetness has to be back-added.  Or a large amount of sugar has to be added at the start, so much that the yeast will die before it is able to consume it all.  This method, however, is tricky, because most strains of yeast have difficulty surviving very sweet environments.  The sugar acts like salt and draws moisture from microbes.  Specialized strains like Sauternes yeast need to be used.

Anyways.  I knew nothing of this at the time, and basically gave up on the mead, though I did eventually bottle it.

This spring I tasted it for the first time in more than a year.

It’s pretty good.

Over the years it has cleared very well, changing from a translucent pink to a tranparent red, I daresay the same red as a raspberry.

It smells unmistakably of raspberries.  I don’t detect any off odours like sulphur or acetone.  Lisa claims it’s musty, but I don’t get any of that.

On the palate, it’s a bit tart and dry, with a watery mouthfeel.  It can be enjoyed on its own, though I think it benefits from a few drops of honey: sweetness to balance the acidity and enrich the mouthfeel.  It is also has a bit of tannin from the raspberry skins.

Will I make this again?  Not in the forseeable future.  If I had to pay for the raspberries, I certainly wouldn’t make it.  We happen to have a forest of raspberries in our backyard, but they only produce enough fruit for us to eat out of hand and make a few jars of jam: not enough to freeze, and certainly not enough to justify crushing into juice.  We do have a relatively cheap source of honey from our Onoway friend.

If I made it again, I would forgo the sterilants and the pH-adjusters and use a higher concentration of crushed raspberry.

A glass of raspberry mead

 

Raspberry Leaf Tea

Drying raspberry leaves for raspberry leaf teaThis is a quick one.  I just learned that raspberry leaves make good tea.

Pick the leaves, dry them in a low oven, and store in an airtight jar.

To serve, steep in hot water for 4 minutes, as you would any other tea, and strain.

I’m not good at describing the subtlties and complexities of something like tea.  To me, raspberry leaf tea tastes a bit like green tea…

It’s good.

Steeping raspberry leaf tea

Mead

Testing the specific gravity of raspberry mead, or melomelI really want to like mead.

When I was a kid, before I knew exactly what mead was, I associated it with vikings and long wooden tables and serving-wenches. Even then, I wanted to like it.

My associations were correct in that mead has been a popular drink in northern Europe since antiquity. The epic poem Beowulf, for instance, is about a dragon (Grendel) that terrorizes the mead-hall of a Danish king (Hrothgar) and that dragon’s subsequent ass-kicking at the hands of a young warrior (Beowulf). So yes, vikings and mead go hand in hand, but the drink is part of cultures far beyond Scandinavia, in Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America.

These days I’m trying to like mead for different reasons. Alberta has a relative abundance of quality honey, an almost complete lack of grapes (despite valiant efforts), and most of the fruits that are commonly used in home wine-making, like cranberries and chokecherries, require tinkering to get the acid and sugar levels right. Brewing with honey appeals to my snobby keep-it-local sensibilities.

I do have some reservations, though. What little mead I have tried, whether commercially-produced or home-brewed, has been thin, insipid, and completely lacking complexity. Maybe that’s just the nature of the beast. But I really want to like it, so I’m soldiering on with some home-brew.

This week I started two batches of mead. One is a mixture of honey and berries (called a “melomel” in mead-speak). Specifically, it is honey from a farm near Onoway, and raspberries frozen from last year’s u-pick bounty.

Raspberry Melomel
from The Winemaker’s Recipe Handbook by Raymond Massaccesi

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lbs raspberries
  • 2 1/2 lbs honey
  • 3 quarts water
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 3/4 tsp yeast nutrients
  • 1 pack wine yeast

The second batch is honey and spices, a “metheglyn”. The mixture is infused with whole cloves, thin slices of ginger, and tea.

Metheglyn
adapted from The Winemaker’s Recipe Handbook by Raymond Massaccesi

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs honey
  • 7 pints water
  • 6 bags Earl Grey tea
  • 4 cloves
  • 1/2 oz fresh ginger
  • 3 tsp acid blend
  • 3/4 tsp yeast nutrients
  • 1 pack wine yeast

The melomel happily sped through primary fermentation, but the metheglyn was a little more ornery.

Problems with Metheglyn Fermentation

The initial specific gravity of my metheglyn must was above 1.100, which is well into dessert-wine sugar levels. This didn’t phase me, as I wanted my spiced mead to be sweet, reminiscent of mulled wine. Alarm bells should have been going off.

I used a Wyeast product specifically designed for sweet meads. I assumed it could handle the high sugar content, but a few days after pitching there were no signs of fermentation. I diluted the must to a specific gravity of 1.085, and twenty-four hours later, the must finally started to bubble.  Next time I’ll try Sauternes yeast.

To sweeten this batch I’ll use the “süsse reserve” method, which is a fancy way of saying that I’ll add a bit of honey to the mead after fermentation has finished. There is some danger that fermentation could restart with the introduction of more sugar. Then I’d have sparkling mead, which actually doesn’t sound too bad. We’ll see.

Raspberry Liqueur

Ever since Neil brought me a recipe for limoncello from Capris, I’ve been eager to try some sort of fruit infusion of alcohol. My surplus of raspberries from Roy’s seemed like divine providence. Here is my recipe for raspberry liqueur.

Raspberry LiqueurRaspberry Liqueur
adapted from a souvenir-bar-towel recipe for limoncello

Ingredients

•750 g raspberries
•750 mL Everclear grain alcohol
•750 mL water
•750 g granulated sugar
•500 mL fresh lemon juice, strained of pulp and seeds

Procedure

  1. Pour the grain alcohol and raspberries into a large glass container. Mash the berries, cover the mixture tightly, and leave for two weeks. This is the infusion.
  2. Pour the infusion through a wire strainer to remove the berry pulp. Discard said pulp.
  3. Make a simple syrup of the sugar and water on the stove. Cool to room temperature and combine with the berry infusion.
  4. At this point, with the dark raspberry flavour, the strong taste of alcohol, and the sickly sweet syrup, the solution tastes a lot like cough medicine. It needs the transforming power of lemon. Mix in the lemon juice, and allow some time for the flavours to combine. Strain through a chinois or a coffee filter to remove the finer sediment.

I finished with about 2.5 L of liqueur which was almost 30% alcohol by volume. It is surprisingly (and dangerously?) easy to drink straight, though most friends prefer it with sparkling water. Summer in a glass.