It’s blackberry picking season here in Australia. I keep an eye out for healthy blackberry brambles all year round and return at the peak of summer to scramble through the thorny stems clutching a bucket. The scratches are a small price to pay for the delicious antioxidant and vitamin rich berries.
There are few fruit that are as fresh, ethical and local as foraged blackberries.
Blackberries are a nice introduction to foraging because they are easy to recognise and there are no poisonous look-alikes.
A common response when I mention blackberry picking is “How do you know the plants haven’t been sprayed?” This concern is justified given that blackberry is an aggressive weed here in Australia and herbicides are used in its control.
How to reduce the risk of foraging from recently sprayed plants.
I use a few strategies to reduce the risk of foraging from recently sprayed plants.
Herbicides are unlikely to be used during rain, so after a few days of rain is an ideal time to pick. If the plants were sprayed prior to the rain there would likely be signs of browning. I forage only from healthy and actively growing blackberry bushes.
Another strategy is to simply ask the landholder. If it’s private property, knock on the farmer’s door or if it’s public land or a road-verge, contact the local council or park manager.
Speaking of road-verges, it’s best to avoid busy urban roads as these are likely to be polluted and regularly sprayed.
I also keep an eye out for tape or signs that may have been used to identify a sprayed area. Blackberry control guidelines recommend that in public areas signs be erected warning people that blackberries have been sprayed, particularly if spraying has occurred throughout the fruiting period.
Edited to include some advice from a Carolyn, a reader who works in land management: Brush Off is a slow acting herbicide that is used for blackberry control. Its effect may not be obvious for a few weeks. It is a hormone based spray, so moves throughout the plant (including fruit) prior to killing it. Grazon/Garlon is a very potent chemical that is also used on Blackberries. It kills within in a day, but is highly toxic.
Carolyn also advises that despite many people believing that herbicide is only used with dyes in it – that is not always the case.
Thank you for sharing Carolyn. You have reinforced, for me, the importance of checking with the farmer or land-manager first before picking.
What to wear
Most of my blackberry picking is done opportunistically. Torn clothes and scratches usually result.
When I’m organised, I wear sturdy boots, long thick pants, and a long-sleeved shirt. I also wear heavy-duty gloves with the fingertips cut off the right glove, so that I can move the branches with my left hand and still pick the berries with my fingertips.
Tools and tips
I use a couple of small buckets rather than one big bucket so that the fruit isn’t squashed and the risk of losing an entire haul in one fall is minimised. Recycled yogurt containers and honey pots with handles are ideal. Tying the container to your waist using a bungee cord frees both hands.
Tools of the trade that I haven’t yet tried include an umbrella (for hooking branches) and a plank (for balancing on top of the blackberry canes so that you can reach the centre of the bush). I’m keen to try these tools – as usually the biggest and ripest berries sit out of reach and tempt me from a distance.
Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 1st February 2014.
My favourite way to use blackberries is in Kate's blackberry and yoghurt cake. It's absolutely delicious and it's the first thing I make when I get my hands on blackberries.
My second favourite is Blackberry Jam.
Whatever volume of blackberries you managed to pick - crushed using a potato masher
An equal volume of sugar
The juice of half a lemon for every cup of crushed fruit used
Pop a plate in the freezer and gather sufficient sterilised jars. To sterilise, boil clean jars in a big pot on the stove for 10 minutes, or wash in the dishwasher on the hottest cycle, or place in an oven at 120 degrees C for at least 20 minutes.
Place crushed fruit in a saucepan and bring to boil. Add sugar and lemon juice, continue to boil and skim off any foam. Start testing whether it has reached setting point after around 10 minutes. To test, place a teaspoon of jam on the chilled plate, place in the freezer for a minute, then run your finger through it. If it wrinkles and stays seperated, then the jam is ready.
Pour into sterilised jars.
I always manage to over-cook my jam - so am probably not the best person to be giving advice on how to test setting point. Pop on over and read this super helpful post at Cityhippifarmgirl on jam making.