Blackberry season is upon us! While foraging for unknown berries is best left to the experts, blackberries are easily identified and can be collected safely from the wild.
Foraging is an interesting, relaxing and rewarding past-time, no less because the food collected is free! As it is collected where it grows the food is not processed and is most often, in all but name, organic. Organic blackberries prices are high, so it makes sense to try foraging for them yourself.
Blackberries are easily identifiable by their flowers, thorny branches and glossy dark berries. Pick them to make into jam or use in pie or cake fillings, crumbles or in muffins. Here are some tips on foraging for blackberries and suggestions for recipes to make with the results.
Tips on Foraging for Blackberries
One of the joys of late summer is picking ripe blackberries from their prickly branches and returning home with purple-stained fingers. You can identify blackberries by their small white flowers which give way to tiny, tightly-packed pale green clusters of berries. Over the weeks, the berries turn slowly red and then become plump, shiny and deep purple – almost black – in colour.
They grow aggressively in many towns as well as in rural areas. Pick ripe berries carefully – they often burst on picking!
Do’s and Dont’s for Picking:
- Avoid wearing any expensive or light coloured clothes – they stain!
- Pick from knee-level upwards to avoid damaged berries or those exposed to animals.
- Pick blackberries away from roadsides as they will have absorbed car fumes – look in sheltered, wooded areas instead.
- Consider wearing Wellington Boots to avoid scratched legs as you reach into the prickly blackberry bushes.
- Blackberry bushes are very prickly and to catch a branch on your skin will be painful. Be careful.
- Also take care of wasps. In late summer when fruit is ripe they feed on the berries but can easily be seen buzzing around the bushes. Just avoid them.
- Stick to public areas. Don’t be tempted to lean over someone’s fence to pluck a juicy berry from its branch. You might encounter an angry neighbor!
If picking blackberries with children, it might be wise to get them to pick the firmer berries within reach rather than inside the densely-packed thorny branches. Alternatively give them a job such as holding the bowl. Or give the berries to them so that they can drop them into the bowl.
How to Wash and Store Blackberries Once You Get Home
Once home, wash blackberries in fresh, cold tap water. Tip them gently into a sieve and swish them around with a gentle burst under the cold tap for a few seconds. Then place them into a large bowl and pour cold water over them to submerge. This will get rid of any tiny insects that have been feeding on them – they will float to the surface within a few minutes. Tip away the water and then rinse again. Lay the berries onto a piece of kitchen paper to dry, checking each one individually for any signs of mould or picking off any remaining stems. Handle with care while washing as they easily squash.
If the blackberries are to be frozen, when dry, tip carefully into a large freeze-proof container. Don’t leave the berries out too long while they are fresh as they will deteriorate rapidly. While fresh, they it’s best to use within a few hours – a day at the most – of picking, but will keep for a few months in the freezer.
Uses for Blackberries in Recipes
Blackberries are a versatile ingredient suitable for a wide range of dishes. Scatter over a game dish – for example pigeon or duck – or make into a sauce for pancakes. Blackberries also make a richly colored, delicious jam perfect for spreading on toast or for using as a cake filling in a Victoria Sponge cake. They can be tumbled into muffin mixtures and baked and used to make rich crumbles.