It’s one of the joys of early autumn. Filling a bucket with juicy black fruit, foraged from the bushes. Kids love the adventure; parents love the idea of sourcing a load of fresh fruit for free; everyone benefits from getting closer to nature.
There’s not, in truth, much of a secret or knack to blackberry picking. Just head out there and get plucking. But you might want to consider the following advice before bothering the bushes.
What to take blackberry picking
- You’ll need a bucket or tupperware container in which to collect your treasure. Pretty obvious, but easily forgotten.
- You might want to consider gardening gloves (you can buy junior sizes online and in specialist shops). Some people prefer not to wear them as it makes the picking fingers more clumsy, but children scared of getting a prickle might feel more comfortable. A thicker glove will allow you to pull branches out of the way to access hidden berries.
- Take a first-aid kit including plasters and antiseptic spray. It’s always a good idea to carry one, but especially when messing around in spiky bushes.
- Wear old clothes. Squished blackberries are messy customers and can form deep stains. Plus, there’s always the chance of snagging on a thorn.
- Blackberry picking is thirsty work, so make sure everyone’s got water bottles.
Where to go blackberry picking
Brambles (another name for blackberry bushes, especially in the UK) have a habit of springing up wherever there’s undisturbed land. You’ll find them easily enough. Check the quiet borders of parks and recreation grounds, woodlands, countryside hedgerows and even on cuttings between roads.
When to go blackberry picking
The juicy, ripened fruit starts appearing on the bushes in mid-August, so some of the more obvious sources will already have been tapped by September. Then again, not all berries on a given bush ripen at the same time, so you should find fresh fruit through to the end of September. If local sources have been fully exploited, try heading a little way out into more rural areas, where fewer people will have ventured.
Tips On Picking Blackberries
Always go for the blacker berries. The red ones may look like tempting raspberries, but they’re probably not ripe and will taste bitter.
Blackberry bushes can hold thousands of berries, but you’ll probably be able to reach only a small fraction. Dense branches, nettles and thorns mean you’ll have to leave the trickier ones to the birds.
If you’ve found a bush with abundant fruit then you should have no problems twisting off the berries. If the only ones left are harder to reach, then consider wearing gloves and sleeved tops to avoid scratches.
Can We Eat Them Straight Off The Bush?
Not everyone feels comfortable doing this. The cautious parent will want to give the berries a thorough washing first. However, there is something comforting and very human about simply popping the berry straight from the bush into the mouth. It’s for you to decide what level of risk you want to expose your children to. At the very least, make sure you’ve given the fruit a look-see to make sure it has no obvious insect life, dirt or other detritus on the surface. And perhaps squirt it with water from your bottle.
It may be tempting -- especially for small children -- to pick the berries close to the ground, as the easiest to reach. Bear in mind that these may have been brushed (or worse) by animals, so they’re probably best avoided if you’re not going to wash them first. Blackberries growing near busy roads should also be avoided, as they may have absorbed nasty pollutants.
Anything Else To Consider?
Blackberries are very easy to identify and unlikely to cause any harm when eaten. That’s not true of all, or even most wild berries. You need to make sure that younger kids understand this. Remind them that they should never pick or eat anything found in the wild without an adult’s permission.
What To Do With Your Blackberries
First you’ll want to wash the blackberries. Leave them to soak in cold water for a few minutes, then drain. Repeat a few times to get all the tiny insects and dirt off. Try not to bash the berries around too much, as they’re delicate and easily mulched.
Blackberries are a versatile food. Bake them into crumbles or pies with other fruit. Add them to coulis. Make blackberry ice cream or sorbet. You can also preserve them as jam, or freeze for future use. And there’s always our recipe for blackberry patties -- an old Viking delicacy, apparently. I like to just throw them into a bowl of cereal.
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