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Roll up, roll up, food for free! That statement has a certain ring attached to it doesn't it? I know that Richard Mabey has written a very much talked about book on the subject of what nature can offer us in terms of nourishment. Sadly as yet I haven't read it, in fact I have just been very tempted to order a used copy from Amazon at just a little over £6. I have to admit to being a fan of Ray Mears and although I hold my hands up to only being a fan I love to watch Ray pounding his berries and making weird and wonderful concoctions using gatherings from the hedgerows.
Blackberry picking just has to take most of us back to our childhood and sunny afternoons when we were sent off with a tattered brown paper bag to gather some blackberries to make either jam, jelly or an apple and blackberry pie. Off we went to scour the perimeter of the fields in search of those blue-black shiny berries that grew prolifically in the hedgerows. Woe betide you if you weren't wearing long sleeves to protect you from the thorny briar's.
Yes you can buy cultivated blackberry bushes to plant either in your garden or allotment but I would far rather go and hunt for my treasure. Blackberry bushes start to produce flower in the Spring ready to produce fruit late Summer to early Autumn. The bushes grow tall and wide and will make a takeover bid if they are left to their own devices. The blackberry bushes have medium sized rich green leaves that are deeply veined and jagged edged, the fragrant blossom produced during the the Spring has the palest of baby pink leaves I know exactly where to find my Blackberries and that is the spot that I will revisit every year to gather my fruit. It is strange though, all of the plumpest juiciest berries are at the top of the bush and being somewhat vertically challenged I have to try hedge climbing ( I keep the crampons in my anorak pocket ).( If crampons are not available then take an umbrella with a hooked handle ) Although wild blackberries tend to be smaller than the cultivated variety more often than not they produce a healthy crop. The berries resemble the fruit of a raspberry but have a different flavour. I find that Blackberries aren't as tart as a raspberry can possibly be, they have a fuller richer flavour. It is a very good and sensible idea to leave the fruit at the bottom of the bush exactly where it is, dog walkers are allowed to enjoy the beauty of the fields too but our four legged friends are choosy when it comes to cocking their legs! Aim for the juiciest looking berries that sit in the middle of the bush, fill your bag with what you are going to use and no more. If you take far more than you want or need then others will miss out altogether. If you want to put some in the freezer then they do freeze well, lay the well washed blackberries out on a tray and open freeze them first, when they are solid then gather a useful amount to freeze and seal them into a plastic bag. If they are initially frozen together then you will end up with a big soggy mass when they are defrosted. Many people will gather more for jam, jelly or wine making. On the Internet you will find many recipes for home-made blackberry juice or cordial. If you have a Smoothie maker I would imagine that blackberries would be an ideal ingredient, when you look at the awful price that cultivated blackberries are in the supermarkets!
Blackberries grow in all different parts of the world and are used for many different reasons. American Indians used the tough stems for rope. It seems that both the fruit and the leaves were at some point in time used for dying hair and also for making ink for lettering. Blackberries are widely used in Alternative medicine. The ancient Greeks used blackberry root bark to treat diarrhoea, wounds, sore throats, gout, haemorrhoids and cystitis.
Blackberries are rich in vitamins A and C and are packed with antioxidants. The fruit makes a delicious tea which can be enjoyed either hot or iced. Because the berries are sweet I enjoy the tea iced. If you mash and sieve some blackberries then just warm the liquid slightly then let it cool off again, then put some of the berry purée into a cup and add water to taste. The amount of water depends on your palette. I find the tea sweet enough without the addition of any sugar.
Apart from blackberry tea the majority of my annual haul gets used in fruit tarts and crumbles. If I am making a tart then I prefer to offset the sweetness of the blackberries with some good tart Bramley apple or stew the berries with a little sugar and then have them topped with cream for a change. Some people find them difficult because the berries are packed with tiny seeds.
There is a fair amount of Folklore attached to the humble blackberry. European folklore says that the blackberry is the fruit of death, I wondered if that tale was attributed to the colour. Blackberries have also been linked with remorse, sadness and lost love. If you have managed to stay the course on the never ending tail of the blackberry then this old wives tale is certainly interesting, blackberries were considered effective in warding off the Devil long before the introduction of garlic. Apart from drinking blackberry wine the Celts wouldn't touch the berry. Christian folklore has it that the Crown of Thorns was constructed from brambles, the dark berries symbolised the blood of Christ.
Blackberries are perennial fruits, they love sunny places but they will adapt to the shade. I would rate them as one of the most sought after `free fruits` along with the Hawthorn berry . Considering they are one of the very few free things in life and they make a good fruit tart, crumble, wine, jelly or jam then maybe we should all start thinking about getting our tattered brown paper bags out ready to harvest this years crop. Always allow plenty of time to pick your berries, I usually do the `One for me` and `One for the bag` which makes the job twice as long!
We have raspberry canes at our allotment but not blackberries. Cultivated blackberries are available at Garden centres or via the internet. A container grown blackberry will cost you about £6. I know that E bay have quite a selection of different blackberry bushes to offer.
Well in just a few weeks time the berries will be starting to form and I wish all my fellow berry pickers a fruitful season.
My makes a beautiful Blackberry wine with them. Well a lovely read!
rosiesmum 01.04.2009 23:05
I used to spend hours blackberrying when I was younger maybe I should start again and make some wine, my Mum used to make us blackberry and apple pie it was georgous.
I have given you exceptional because your review was really interesting and I enjoyed reading it immensley Cheersxxxxx
catsholiday 30.03.2009 16:14
We have ahedge just oppoite our house and I picked and froze loads last year - no-one else in the villae bothered - perhaps they knew something I didn't! We are all still here to tell though. Sue