What a fantastic way to spend a day with family or friends, an opportunity to chat aimlessly while enjoying fresh air and autumn sunshine. Mankind has indulged in similar activity since prehistoric times – seeds of this well-known plentifully wild crop has been found in stomachs of ancient Bog-men persevered through time in the peat where they were entombed.
In more recent times I recall fond memories of being lifted to sit on a small wooden seat attached to the crossbar of my father’s high framed Raleigh bike as we prepared to head off to the countryside. My father’s roadster darting under the canopy of tree lined roads. Speeding toward his favourite picking spot only a mile or so from our home my brothers pedalled hard to keep up on their smaller bikes. Stopping at the gate of a field bikes were piled high against the hedge and with containers in hand we climbed over the gate and headed for our prise, blackberries!
Blackberry plants are hard to miss these adaptable plants grow almost anywhere and in most conditions. They thrive in poor soil and are found in hedgerows across the country. Plants consist of wild untidy barred brambles growing 10 feet as they creep up and along hedgerows, wrapping their thorny shoots around trees and shrubs alike as they spread as wide as they do high. Plants grow quickly spreading through hedgerows as every shoot upon touching soil takes root.
Brambles are dotted with sharp hooked barbs that easily tear and pull at clothes, pulling to release them only causes the flexible brambles to bend and barbs to dig in deeper; barbs require teasing out one at a time. The leaves of these formidable plants appear in March through to November and are coated in prickly spikes on their underside. Leaves appear green at first changing colour as autumn approaches turning through greens to reds. Bunches of white or pinkish-white blossoms begin to appear in May and continue to blossom through to September.
Blackberries appear from mid-summer into autumn after flowering, each berries consist of numerous drupelets surrounding a central core. Drupelets plump and turn black as berries ripen. The fruit of plants do not ripen all at once meaning plants can be revisited from September to early October to pick berries as if from nature’s own larder. But keep in mind, generally mid-September is peak session for picking berries. After first frosts, berries become tasteless and unsuitable for use and should be left for local wild life to consume.
Before heading out on your own excursion foraging for berries here is a couple of do’s and don’ts to consider;
• Dress appropriately, heavy boots\shoes, thick trousers and long sleeved tops to protect against sharp barbs.
• Old clothes preferable, the purple juice from berries stain clothes easily
• Carry a bottle of fresh water, to wash hands and those berries you can’t resist munching on while picking.
• Do not entry private property without permission.
• Select a location which is safe, roads that are less travelled by cars are not only safer but berries will be free from pollutions and chemicals.
• Leave berries which are touching or low to the ground, after all a dog’s leg only cocks so high.
• Don’t over reach those berries which appear the biggest, ripest but just out of your reach are a berry too far and should be left to for the wildlife.
• Avoid picking berries after heavy prolonged rain fall, wait for dryer days.
• Only pick plump shiny fresh blackberries, under ripe berries appear red, purple-black in colour, are hard and bitter, over ripe berries lose their gloss and appear dull and mushy.
• Rather than collecting berries in bags causing them to mash together, use small containers and don’t over fill.
• Remove all leaves, stems and dirt from berries before placing in containers.
• Don’t wash berries until you are ready to use them.
• Berries which are to be frozen should be cleaned and frozen as soon as possible.
• Finally take your prise berries home and enjoy.
As a child returning home laden down with berries collected on weekend excursions meant looking forward to double helpings of blackberry pie and clustered for Sunday dinner afters. Since childhood my taste has changed slightly, mom’s blackberry pie is still a favourite but blackberry whiskey is now also high on the lists.
Blackberries are a very versatile fruit – eaten raw as a snack full of vitamin C, include them as a toppings for porridge, add them to autumn fruit salads, mom’s blackberry pie is hard to beat, try blackberry and apple crumble for a real treat. For the adults making and consuming fruity blackberry whiskey or refreshing blackberry and elderberry wine can be great enjoyment especially when shared with other.
So why wait, next sunny autumn day head off for a free days outing picking blackberries to indulge in the treats they offer, keep an eye out for another wild harvest, sloes berries, Christmas will be fast approaching and finding a good crop of sloes to return to after the first frost now will allow ample time to make a bottle or two of traditional sloe gin to enjoy over a festive session.