If you’ve been outside at all over the past few weeks, you will have seen the blackberries that are ripening everywhere. I was going to say, ‘if you’ve been into the countryside,’ but having taken a wander into Belfast to visit St. George’s Market, where the Blackberries were literally pushing their way out from between buildings, I figured that I had to adjust my sentence.
Blackberries start green, turn slowly red and then ripen into a plump, black (well deep, deep purple) berry, but they’re guarded by batteries of piercing thorns. Most people will have foraged for them at some point in their lifetime, most likely as a child, and if you have never foraged, these little guys are the place to start. They are exceedingly difficult to mistake for anything else.
The brambles (blackberry bushes) start producing ripe berries from the start of August to the middle of October. And whilst I could give you a list of where I’ve foraged for them, these little guys will pop up on any waste ground, particularly around the edges of fields. In the past, I’ve had good luck collecting them along the Comber greenway and around the Stormont estate. Also, a bit further out, Crawfordsburn country park, Jordanstown, and up around the hills and hedgerows in Larne where my sister lives. Honestly, it would probably be easier to list where they don’t grow.
Do try to pick them away from busy roads, or on waste ground that might be polluted, as these could potentially make you sick, though it’s not something I’ve experienced in my years of collecting and eating them.
The good thing about Blackberries is that, unless you want to et them fresh, you don’t have to collect them all in one go. Blackberries tend to give up more juice if you freeze them first, so what I do is to do small collections when it suits. When I’m out pushing the buggy, I’ll fill the little bag on the back, and then tip the berries into the bowl in my freezer, only foraging for 10 minutes at a time. So far, I’ve collected a decent amount, but I’m hoping to collect enough to make me some blackberry wine, the nicest of the homemade country wines. It is a lot of fun to go out on a big blackberry picking foray though, particularly with kids 🙂
When you collect blackberries, take plastic boxes, rather than plastic bags, as the brambles can snag the bags, ripping holes and spilling all of your hard-picked berries all over the ground. You might want to wear plastic gloves to save your skin from the thorns, but I don’t bother- sure a few cuts are just battle scars. Babywipes are a good thing to bring to, because you invariably find your hands covered in purple juice. Wear old clothes, and long sleeves and trousers, otherwise the brambles and/or nettles are likely to get you.
Once you bring all of your berries home put them in a colander and give them a good clean. Then either leave them sitting in light salted water, or in an airtight box and leave them to sit. The reason for this is that it will get any bugs out of the berries. Once they’ve sat for a while, rinse them again in the colander, and then they are good to go.
Once you’ve got to this point, the world is your oyster. Jam or jelly are the most common options, or you could make a chutney. I quite like the blackberry summer pudding, as it’s a way to use up stale bread. Me, I’ll hopefully make wine, as I said above. Stay tuned for that one.
Or, if foraging for Blackberries doesn’t appeal to you, you could always buy them from Tesco, where they’re £3.00 for 300g, and their countries of origin are: United Kingdom, Ireland, Guatemala, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa or Spain.