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Guide To: Fraochán Picking

Guide To: Fraochán Picking

Have you ever picked Fraocháns? Here we share with you what to look for, where to find them, and how to cook with them. Not to be confused with its better-known cousin, the blueberry, fraocháns are smaller, sweeter, and have a rich and deep cultural history too.

Also, learn why we believe that names are powerful and why you should try giving your own names to the wild plants growing in your environment.

 

Fraocháns are a low-growing shrub not more than 60cm high. You will find them growing on acidic heathland and damp mountainsides.

Names are powerful things. Don’t forget this. Names are one of the best tools we humans have to form a bond of belonging with others and with our environment and surroundings. Enjoy names and naming things.
“Fraocháns?! What are they?” you say. Why haven’t I heard about fraocháns before?
ON NAMING WILD THINGS
“Fraocháns?! What are they?” you say. Why haven’t I heard about fraocháns before?
Fraocháns are a wild food that has not, for the most part, been successfully cultivated. And so, in common with other wild foods that have not been cultivated for supermarket sales, fraocháns have many, many common and regional names. Perhaps you are more familiar with the names bilberries, whin berries, or heatherberries?
While this is confusing at first, keep in mind that this non-standardisation is really an essential part of the richness and traditions of wild foods.

“Names are one of the best tools we humans have to form a bond of belonging with others and with our environment and surroundings”

For example, across the island of Ireland, this berry has many names and not really any standardised spelling – regional names include fraughan or frachóg, whorts, hurts or heatherberries. Elsewhere in Wales they are known as winberries, in England whinberries, blaeberries, whortleberry and windberries. In Scandinavian languages, bilberries have names that translate to "blueberry". There is “blåbär” in Swedish and “blåbær” in Danish and Norwegian. Of course, you could also refer to this little berry by its scientific name, Vaccinium myrtillus.
When it comes to naming, don’t be put off or confused by a multitude of names. Embrace multiplicity. Use the name you hear used in your community or even add your own tradition and make up your own family name for the berry if you like. For example, in our family, we refer to the wildflower Montbretia as Muircheartaighs - after the popular Irish radio broadcaster whose voice we associate with late Summer when the bright orange flower blooms along the roadside. Names are one of the best tools we humans have to form a bond of belonging with others and with our environment and surroundings.
Names are powerful things. Don’t forget this. Enjoy multiple names and take the power and try naming things for yourself.
The green leaves are oval with finely-toothed margins and short stalks.
Not to be confused with its better-known cousin, the blueberry, fraocháns are smaller, sweeter, and a darker purple colour than the more commonly cultivated blueberry.
HOW TO IDENTIFY FRAOCHÁNS
Fraocháns are a low-growing shrub not more than 60cm high. You will find them growing on acidic heathland and damp mountainsides. The green leaves are oval with finely-toothed margins and short stalks. In Spring you will identify them by a red flower, in July you will find the plant bearing purple-black berries (5-10mm across).
Not to be confused with its better-known cousin, the blueberry, fraocháns (or insert your name of choice here…) are blue-black berries that are smaller, sweeter, and a darker purple colour than the more commonly cultivated blueberry. Fraocháns are difficult to grow and the fruit is small, so they are seldom cultivated.
If you are not so sure about finding a good spot for picking fraocháns one idea is to start to identify your potential picking spots while out walking in woodlands earlier in the summer. In May the flower of the plant can be a little bit more noticeable in the more sparse undergrowth at that time of the year. You can then bookmark this spot to return to in July.
In May the flower of the plant can be a little bit more noticeable in the more sparse undergrowth at that time of the year
One difficulty we have found when out-picking fraocháns is that the berries tend to be slightly hidden under the leaf of the shrub, which itself grows low to the ground. This can make them initially hard to spot.
WHERE TO FIND FRAOCHÁNS
Fraocháns are a low-growing undershrub, that is found mostly on hilly or mountainous land or areas with steep embankments. It favours acidic, nutrient-poor soils soils and damp hilly environments. The berries themselves can be hard to spot as they hang down beneath the leaves. We have found this makes them suited to picking with small children as the berries are within their reach and often they will be the first to spot them. An added advantage is that unlike blackberries there are no briars or thorns to contend with.

“An added advantage is that unlike blackberries there are no briars or thorns to contend with.”

Like with blackberry picking, purple-stained hands are very much part of the experience.

“Traditionally a good crop of fraocháns is seen as a harbinger of a good harvest to come.”

WHEN TO PICK FRAOCHÁNS
Fraocháns are usally ready to pick in July. As with all wild food foraging - the weather in the preceding months will influence when a crop will be ready and how bountiful they are. Traditionally a good crop of fraocháns is seen as a harbinger of a good harvest to come. In Ireland, picking fraocháns was once such an embedded part of life, the third Sunday in July was known as “Fraochán Sunday”
Because the berries grow quite low to the ground we have found this makes fraochán picking a foraging activity suitable for small children. The berries are within their reach and often they will be the first to spot them. An added advantage is that unlike blackberries there are no briars or thorns to contend with.
ON BLUEBERRY HILL
One interesting thing to note is that Medieval scholars have written about the link between pilgrimages, climbing, and berry picking in Medieval Ireland.
“Many pilgrimages that take place on the last sunday of July such as the pilgrimage to Mount Brandon Co Kerry, Croagh Patrick Co Mayo and Maumeen , Co. Galway evolved from the Celtic Festival of Lughnasa held in honour of the God Lugh.  Another relic of this festival was the collection of billberries also on the same day the last Sunday in July”.

“The picking of fraughans at this time of year, and the associated hill climbing, is deeply rooted in Irish life, or at least it was”

This idea is further picked up by Frank McNally in The Irish Times . “The picking of fraughans at this time of year, and the associated hill climbing, is deeply rooted in Irish life, or at least it was” he writes. “Just as the bilberry has many names, so does the day on which it was most traditionally gathered: the last Sunday of July. At least one, Fraughan Sunday, gives the fruit top billing. So, in fact, does Hurt Sunday, which might sound like a day for penitential flagellation, but is yet another version of the berry’s name, from a contraction of “whortle”. But it was also called Garland (or Garlic) Sunday, Black Crom’s Sunday (or Domhnach Chrom Dubh), and the name with which Croagh Patrick is synonymous, Reek Sunday. And like that one, some of the names, including Height Sunday, suggest that climbing was an end in itself.”
HOW TO EAT AND USE FRAOCHÁNS
Like with most wild berries - there are many ways to cook and bake with fraocháns - if you manage to not eat them all before you get home.
In our house we make a very basic, simple jam - the trick we have found is to leave the jam for some weeks (months?) unopened to allow the flavour to really deepen and develop. One particular year we pulled it out of the back of the fridge in November to have with wild venison - without realising it, we had accidentally hit on the ideal pairing for fraochán jam - wild game.
Fraocháns are also suited to jams, fools, juices or pies. They are also used as a base for liqueurs sorbets and other desserts including crêpes. Just as there are many names for this berry, there are also many recipes and traditions across the world offering ideas for how to use it. In Romania the berries are used as a base for a liqueur called afinată – the name of the fruit in Romanian is afină. In Iceland they are popularly eaten with skyr. In Poland, they are either eaten fresh (mixed with sugar) or baked into sweet buns known as jagodzianka. 
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