For my entire life this time of year has signalled purple fingers and perma-scratched ankles because it is blackberry picking season (or bramble depending on where you and your family are from). A time you'll find me with my back to the world and my head buried in a bush. Going back to school always signalled picking berries on the way home and blackberry jam bubbling on the stove top.
The country becomes laden with free fruit and leaving the house without a bag or pot of some kind is a criminal act. For over a month, if you fancy some fruit take yourself off to a river bank, alley way, hedgerow, park or almost anywhere be it countryside, town or city and take what you need.
Blackberry Picking Tips
1. Take a pot or bag to carry them in - when desperate/forgetful I use a (unused and unscented) dog poo bag to carry home my berry swag. I tend to find milk cartons really useful for picking berries as they have handles, so I keep a clean one by the front door and try to take it with me when I walk the dog.
2. Keep your eyes peeled because blackberries can crop almost anywhere. Sometimes you'll see great swathes of them and other times you'll find just one shoot poking through a bush offering you two ripe berries to snack on (resist until washed). They don't tend to grow beautifully and it can all look a bit messy (see photo below) but you can't mistake those jewel like berries.
4. Don't pick from too high up - they're for the birds. In fact as a rule of thumb I tend not to pick any I'd have to struggle to reach because they're for someone else who can reach or wildlife.
5. Don't be greedy! Only take what you need - others are living by this rule so you can have some, so it is only fair you return the favour.
6. Don't pick from the side of busy roads, just bleugh. Even though you're washing them the crap pumped out by cars and mud splattered up the bushes doesn't make roadside berries too appealing to me.
7. If possible try to wear long sleeves and long trousers (unlike Mr Thrifty in these photos - I did tell him) because you're likely to get caught on the bushes or stung by nettles and it hurts.
8. Eat or freeze your berries within 24 hours. You'll find my freezing tips below.
9. Don't wash the berries until you are about to eat or freeze them, otherwise they'll spoil quickly.
10. Aim to pick firm, plump looking berries - the squashed ones will just go bad quicker and taint the rest of your batch.
11. If you get blackberry stains on your clothes, cover the stains in white vinegar and leave to sit for 30 minutes then rinse with cold water and wash as normal.
12. Here in the UK the best time to pick blackberries is now! Our season is typically the end of August and the month of September but you may find them on the bushes a little earlier.
13. Laws surrounding foraging are a bit complicated. I stay clear of private property or beauty spots altogether and I only pick what I can eat. Here is an interesting BBC article covering the laws in England and Wales, along with Scottish laws. The Theft Act 1968 states "A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not (although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purpose." But bye laws can come into play here and there - however I have never encountered trouble or spotted a bye law sign nor has anyone I know.
Mr Thrifty and I hadn't really found many blackberries local to us until this weekend when we found a huge cluster behind our garage! Feast for all. We bagged up a few pots and left them on the steps of our flats for people to take, it was lovely to see our pots returned to the steps the next day all washed up, a few even had thank you notes.
As you can see in this post we had committed high blackberry treason and left the flat with no suitable berry vessel when walking our dog (and only one poo bag!) so we used a long baguette (bread not Fendi) bag we had squirrelled in the boot of our car for Jarvis shaped emergencies - yup we like to try and reuse everything.
As Jarvis ran riot around the fields we spent a happy half an hour walking, taking and picking blackberries for pudding and breakfast. Blissful. And the baguette bag faired just fine, it wasn't perfect but it worked well enough for a small amount.
Tips for freezing blackberries
I tend to freeze my blackberries one of two ways. I lump around 200g into a freezer bag or pot and pop them straight into the freezer - this way they tend to come out in a big lump but this doesn't tend to matter for baking, jam or smoothies. If I want the frozen fruit to come out as individual berries (for something like breakfasts or snacks) then I spread the berries in a single layer across a baking tray and freeze for 24hr hours before then pouring into a pot and keeping in the freezer until I need to use them.
Seamus Heaney, one of my favourite poets died very recently so I though it fitting to share his poem called Blackberry Picking, which shares the sentiments of many of my tips.
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.
- Seamus Heaney
Feel free to add your tips and tricks below.
EDITED TO ADD: I thought it would go without saying but yeah - wash them before you smash them into your face, k? Good.
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P.S. During this time of the year we eat blackberries in so many different ways, if you'd like me to post some of our ideas do let me know.
P.P.S. Are they out near you yet?
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