Sunday, July 31, 2016

Summer Foraging: Blackberries

Hopefully everyone can remember a time of picking and eating blackberries with their grandparents.  For years my Grandma had a secret patch, that was guarded by a big red bull.  We were always warned to stay away from the bull.  I'm pretty sure she just wanted us to stay away from the blackberries.   If you don't have a great blackberry story with an older relative, now is the time to get out with someone, (a wife, kids, Grandma/Grandpa) and make some.  I remember plenty of times being at one of my Grandparent's houses, and wandering through the woods, and munching on blackberries. 

Blackberry Plant
Blackberries are one of the foolproof berries to harvest.  As far as I can tell there are no poisonous look-a-likes, although there are a few other berries that look very similar, but they are edible and delicious.  Blackberries can be identified by the dark colored berries that are clustered together at the end of the cane.  They have between 3 and 5 leaflets per leaf.  Blackberry stems (called canes) are a light green, with alternate leaves, filled with thorns (never ever forget they have thorns, they can be quite painful), and the canes are filled with ridges and angles.

Blackberries grow from second year canes, meaning a blackberry cane will grow one year, then the next year it will produce fruit.  Depending on where you are foraging (ie, private vs public land), if you have picked all the berries from a cane, you should cut that cane off at the ground level to prune it back.  Blackberries are prolific growers, spreading from roots underground.  I've collected a few specimens of blackberries, that I am going to try and propagate in my own back yard.

3 Leaf Blackberry
Almost all blackberries I have found have been growing in the shade of larger trees.  They are not always growing in the deep forest, but the particular patch I've found are.  There are also issues of legality, if you are on private land, you must obtain the owners permission to harvest any of the berries.  On National Forest land, it is illegal to harvest berries.  On State owned lands, you will need to see what the laws are in your particular area.  In my area, harvesting berries on state land is illegal.  I wish it wasn't, I find it to be an unjust law, and while I am hunting I find it perfectly ethical to harvest a few and pop in my mouth.  I would never harvest bucketfuls though.

I've found the best time of the year to harvest blackberries is the second or third week of July.  You will find some that are ripe in June, and you will find some that are ripe all the way into September, but I find the most are ripe in the middle of July.

A few things to be wary of are snakes and bears.  Bears can be an issue depending on where you live.  They love berries, and you can easily run into them in a thick berry patch.  Snakes love to hunt and hide under the thick patches.  Make sure you are careful where you put your feet, and always look before grabbing any berries to make sure a snake is not hiding.  And always make sure you are protected from bugs.  Blackberries are infamous for chiggers and ticks.  And always look out for the thorns.  They can be quite painful.

Now to the fun part.  Blackberries can be eaten raw, made into a cobbler, and made into jellies and jams.  Here are links to a few recipes.  Try one, try all, and share your own in the comments section. 
I hope you can find a place near you to go and harvest some blackberries this weekend.  Take your kids, take your wife, take someone elses kids.  It's an easy fruit to find, and harvest, and the berries are delicious.