Blackberries grow gangbusters in the Seattle area. I didn’t realize, until I read a blog post by hoosieroutwest, that not everyone is blessed (and cursed) with blackberry bushes growing randomly in empty lots and ignored land. My husband and I jumped on the foraging bandwagon early and collected two big containers of berries in under an hour. It was a great outdoor activity for us and the dog, who sat panting in the shade. If you have blackberries growing in your area I recommend that you grab anything that will hold berries and go foraging!
Blackberries are a great place to start if you have never gone foraging before. Here some basic blackberry foraging tips to get you started:
- Be prepared: Be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat. I always stay outside picking longer than I anticipate. Time flies when you are picking berries! Also, wear long sleeved shirt and pants. I know it may be hot and you will look slightly crazy but blackberry bushes and vines are quite nasty. It helps to have a layer of protection.
- Bring the right tools: Bring a coffee can foraging pale, or just a plastic container to put your berries in. It is better to have a few shallow containers than one giant jug. The more berries you put in the more likely the weight will crush the berries on the bottom. Bring a pair of pruning shears or scissors. This very helpful tool easily cuts the creeping vines to allow us to reach berries further in the bushes. Some may think to bring a small step ladder to help reach those berries just out of reach, but be careful on uneven ground. It would be unfortunate to fall over into a blackberry patch. It is more often recommended to bring a stick or a broom handle with a hook on it to bring the out of reach berries back to you on firm ground instead of risking it.
- Find the right location: It is best to find a berry patch that you may check every week to see the berries progress as they grow from flower to green bud to ripening fruit. It can be a spot that you pass while walking the dog or on the way to catch the bus. I look for bushes that remain in direct sunlight the majority of the day. These bushes will often ripen earlier, grow more for longer and produce sweeter berries. I try to stay away from bushes directly off the road. There are a lot of pollutants and debris from the vehicles traveling on the road that can coat the berries and possibly make you sick.
- Pick ripe berries: Blackberries are ripe when they are a dark red to black color. They should come off the plant cleanly with a gentle tug. I give up on berries that need too much force to be removed and those that just turn to mush when I grab them. I don’t feel guilty about picking all the ripe berries in a patch. They are an invasive species and there are often plenty more green berries leftover that will ripen within a week. Then you can come back the next week for more.
- Clean and preserve quickly: Once you are done picking and return home, clean and process them immediately or put them into the refrigerator. Remember that the berries only last a few days in the refrigerator and then quickly grow mold. Since these berries are sun ripened they will not last as long as store-bought berries. If I have no current plan for them I just rinse the blackberries off in a colander in the sink and pick out the bad berries, leaf bits, and random insects (mostly lady beetles and inch worms). Then I measure out 2 cups berries for each freezer ziplock bag and put them in the freezer. I save them for adding to yogurt or for making a berry pie. Fat of the Land blog also has some good ideas for blackberry treats.
I made some blackberry preserve with my foraged blackberries. I may have boiled them a bit longer than they should have been. The preserve should not hold its form when spooned out of the finished jar. But it still tastes awesome. Next time I try this recipe I am going to try using honey instead of regular sugar.
Blackberry Preserve (from Ball Blue Book of Preserving)
6 cups berries (blackberries, loganberries, red or black raspberries)
4 cups sugar (or 2 cups sugar, 2 cups honey)
Measure the berries and put them in a sauce pan. Add to the sauce pan sugar to berries and allow them to stand for about 10 minutes for the juices to come out of the berries. Heat the berries and sugar on a low heat and gradually increase heat until the sugar dissolves. Heat the jam on high to achieve a boil while to stirring to prevent sticking while the mixture thickens. Boil until almost to a gelling point. The longer you boil, the thicker the preserve will be. Skim off any foam that forms. Spoon the hot preserve into the sterilized jars leaving ¼ inch heads space. Tighten the lids down with the bands and boil the jars in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes. Cool the jars on the counter overnight and check the seals in the morning. Enjoy!