The blackberry season is here once again! I love blackberries. They're one of the few fruits that are considered keto-friendly because they're lower carb (6-7 net carbs per cup), so you can afford to include a handful of them (around 1/4 cup) in your daily diet if desired and still hit your macros.
Every year from mid-summer to early fall, the delightfully invasive species known as the Himalayan Blackberry (or ‘Rubus armeniacus’) bears fruit all over BC. You can find them next to roadways, alongside rivers and streams, in pasture lands, at forest edges, really almost anywhere. At this time of year, you pretty much have to live in a concrete wasteland to not find blackberries close by thanks to their hearty nature and the eating and pooping habits of various birds and mammals that spread their seed far and wide across the land. The maintenance staff at BC municipal and provincial parks have their work cut out for them as every year they toil endlessly to prune back the blackberries brambles. Like laundry, it’s a perpetual chore that has to be done lest our parklands be consumed by them. But at least we’ll always have blackberries and having an easily accessible, nutritious food will come in handy in the coming apocalypse, which might be sooner than we think by the state affairs with BC’s wildfires this year... but I digress. So in these pre-apocalyptic times (or possibly post depending on whether or not we’ve managed to keep the Interwebs up and running), how does one go about getting the most out of the annual blackberry harvest with the least amount of pain and suffering? Well, here is my tip list for making it the best experience possible:
1) Don’t see blackberry picking as a chore. Picking blackberries may seem like a tedious activity to some, but I see it as the perfect activity for relaxing my mind and body, by going for a gentle walk and giving my mind a simple task that doesn’t require intense focus. It’s a fantastic activity for sparking creativity, much like the state of mind you get while folding laundry or showering. With all these rewards, not to mention the fruit themselves, I thoroughly enjoy the experience of picking blackberries.
2) Give summer heat the finger. Much of the blackberry harvest takes place in the hottest part of summer, so it’s best to keep this in mind when choosing a time to go blackberry picking, so as to avoid the discomfort of becoming a sweaty mess and the necessity of a shower. Early morning while the air is still cool and the sun is low on the horizon is my favourite time to go, but on occasion, I’ll go at dusk just as the sun is setting but before the light is gone.
3) Avoid pricks by using protection. Blackberry brambles are notorious for their thorns, so you should take this into consideration when dressing for the occasion. Wear long-sleeve shirts and full length pants that are lightweight, breathable, and can be easily cleaned. While it might be tempting to wear lighter coloured clothing, darker colours are less likely to stain and blackberries can and do stain. Full coverage foot wear like runners or hiking shoes are also important for keeping your feet protected. Every so often, I’ll wear sandals to pick blackberries when it’s hot, but I almost always regret it, inevitably picking up a few scratches around my feet and ankles. A wide-brim hat is also advisable, not only for protecting against the sun. I have managed to get my hair caught in bramble thorns as I lean in to get through to some choice berries.
4) Step on problem branches. Sometimes low-lying branches can get in the way, making certain fruit-bearing sections inaccessible. Don’t lost hope; step on them. By carefully stepping on problem branches, you can safely control them and still access the berries beyond them. Good thing you wore shoes!
5) Don’t pick from the pee branches. While it might be tempting to pick the squat accessible berries that are closer to the ground (under 3 feet), this is urine country for any dog or random animal that happens by. ‘Nuff said.
6) Diversify your picking strategy with a friend. Sometimes when I want to maximize my harvest, or add a social element to the experience, I’ll go blackberry picking with a friend. If you don’t already have a specific friend in mind, consider bring one that allows you to strategize. I’m only 5’4” so I like to bring either my husband who is 6’2”. If he’s not available, I have a friend who lives close and is 6’6”, making him a perfect choice for getting those impossible to reach branches that never get picked.
7) Pick early and pick often. As soon as the blackberries start to ripen, start your picking! Be sure to rotate your picking locations to give the vines time to bear new fruit. Bushes can be harvested 2-3 times a week.
8) Pick the right blackberries. The ideal blackberry should be dark-coloured but still firm. Ripe berries will come away easily from the vine. Avoid overripe or moist berries as these are more likely to get mouldy.
9) Eat or preserve your berries. Blackberries are delicious fresh. Sometimes I’ll eat them right as I pick them. Others, I’ll wash and keep them in the fridge for 1-2 days, enjoying them with homemade yogurt, ice cream, in salads or in fresh baked desserts. But because I pick so many berries, the vast majority of them end up preserved for long-term use. My preferred method is freezing. I’ll share more info on the freezing process in a later post.
I’ll bet you didn’t think I would have as many as 9 tips for picking blackberries. Well, my process has come from many years of experience taking advantage of the BC’s blackberry harvest. After all, why pay $4/pint when you can pick them by the bucket for free? Plus, it doesn’t get more “organic” than picking them from wild bushes.
Do you have any tips I may have missed? I doubt it, but if you do, by all means, please share them in the comments. I welcome the opportunity to refine my process. :)