Golfers, fighter pilots and magicians all share two honours: being featured prominently in the half dozen VHS tapes we owned when I was a kid, and having their own peculiar vocabulary.
Berry pickers share the latter and the frequency of words like windfall, galore, paltry, and slim-pickings in overheard conversation can help identify this common Yukon creature. Also listen for Yukon-specific vocabulary such as bonanza, jackpot and striking-it-rich, in contexts that do not seem suited to shiny metal.
Names are a particular aspect of vocabulary that can confuse a novice or area-newcomer. It took me ages to discover that the ubiquitous mossberry was in fact the crowberry of my childhood.
Camouflaged at other times of the year, the berry picker’s fall habits make him or her easier to identify. Watch for cars pulled over on odd highway shoulders or down mining roads. They usually carry buckets, often a pack, and may be wearing kneepads.
Characteristic behaviour includes walking through brush with eyes glued to the ground and sudden exclamations followed by diving into the bushes. Each individual has a particular range of calls that, once learned, can be used to not only pinpoint a location in thick brush, but also remotely ascertain the status of berry bushes in the vicinity.
Do be cautious, as pickers can be easily surprised when in “the zone.”
In town, berry pickers can be seen pushing carts full of canning jars, and blue or purple stains may be detected on fingers, knees, and around the edges of the mouth. These are particularly evident in the mossberry picker, a subset that finds it increasingly difficult to conceal its identity as the season progresses; the berries become sweeter (more delectable) and less firm (messier) with frost.
Proper scientific nomenclature uses two latin words to describe each species, and I think our hard working Yukon berry pickers deserve a little distinction. I dub them Piscator bacae.
Baca is Latin for berry or fruit, as well as a pearl, and I consider berries the gems of the Yukon harvest. Piscator comes from pisces, fish, and I like the metaphor of a sea of berry bushes trolled by these intrepid gatherers.
Here is a short list of my favourite uses for Yukon berries:
Lowbush cranberries: also called lingonberries. They fFreeze well and add a lovely tartness to smoothies.
Highbush cranberries: smell like old socks. Mix with other berries in fermented juice or soda.
Mossberries: – easy to pick en masse. Freeze well and make great pie filling.
Blueberries and bilberries: a handful from the freezer on my granola each morning is such a treat in the winter.
Bastard toadflax: bright orange savoury berries. Give Use fresh. They give a lovely crunch to salads and muffins, used fresh..