The autumnal winds are upon us once more, the leaves on the trees are beginning to fall off, and the evenings are getting darker.
But as we wave goodbye to summer, it’s not all bad news—because September and early October is the ideal time of year for rummaging through the hedgerows and picking your own fruit.
That’s right, the country’s bramble bushes are in bloom; blackberry-picking season is here and we can all take advantage of it!
Arm yourself with baskets and it won’t be long until your fingers and lips are dyed purple. Then, use your haul—if there’s anything left!—to make some wonderful autumn recipes from homemade jam to blackberry pie.
To aid your berry-picking efforts this season, we’ve put together this Ultimate Guide to Blackberry Picking in the UK.
Where to Pick?
Thriving in abundance in most British hedgerows, for the majority of the year bramble bushes are little more than a prickly inconvenience when strolling through the countryside.
Come summer and, ‘given rain and sun’, these bushes begin to blossom with delicate white or pink flowers which are followed later in the year by juicy blackberries.
With autumn’s arrival, the bramble bush berries turn from red to the near-black that gives them their name. ‘Blackberrying’, still a common practice in the UK, is one of the few modern-day examples of foraging to survive.
Because bramble bushes abound in Britain, you can go blackberrying more or less anywhere in the country.
But there are still some golden rules to observe:
1. Be on the right side of the law. Ensure that you are not trespassing on anyone else’s land—the consequences for doing so can be severe. The laws surrounding foraging in the UK, however, are less equivocal. The Theft Act 1968 states:
‘a person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not (although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purpose.’
In other words, you’ll only get into trouble if you attempt to sell your berries on. But why on earth would you want to do that?!
2. This may seem glaringly obvious, but be aware of the area surrounding the berries you before you pick them. Low-lying berries may have been exposed to dog or other wildlife’s urination. It’s always best to go for berries higher-up the bush. But don’t pick them from too high—they’re for the birds. Also, be wary of blackberrying too close to an open road; the berries may have become contaminated with exhaust fumes.
3. Always keep your eyes peeled. Blackberries can crop up pretty much anywhere. Sometimes you’ll stumble upon a bumper crop; other times you’ll clap eyes on a lone shoot with two ripe berries just waiting to be tasted. So be vigilant—and tenacious.
When to Pick?
Blackberries are usually at their best between the end of August and the very start of October. An old legend has it that any berries picked after September are cursed, as the devil is said to have spat or, even worse, peed on them.
We’re not so sure about this, but certainly, by mid-October, the damp weather will have ruined many yields. For this reason, any date after Michaelmas (29th September) is traditionally a bit late to go blackberrying.
Truth be told, regarding when to pick, it’s a fine balancing act. Pick your berries too early in the season, and they won’t be ripe; pick them too late, and they’ll be on-the-turn.
John Wright, acclaimed foraging expert, advises to look for berries with a glossy black swollen appearance (see image below); if insects have been at the fruit, it will tend to look deflated.
The best berries can probably be found in mid-September—when the fruit begins to take on a sweeter taste, superb in pies, crumbles and cakes, frequently married with early apples for a true taste of the changing seasons.
How to Gather?
Ensure you don’t pile your blackberries on top of each other in a haphazard fashion: this will squish your berries before you’ve even got them home. As a result, they will bruise and ruin.
Try to use a couple of containers if you want to pick loads of berries. (Please also bear in mind other pickers.)
You can either use a pot, a bag or even an old, plastic milk bottle to collect your crop. Milk bottles are good because they have useful handles.
Don't be greedy! Remember, others would like to enjoy this activity too. Only take what you need; hopefully, other pickers will do the same.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
How to Store?
Once you have picked your berries, either eat them or freeze them within a few days. To store them without freezing, ensure they are kept dry.
If you refrigerate your berries, let them come to room temperature before eating, as they’ll taste much juicer that way.
Don’t wash your berries until you’re about to eat or freeze them; otherwise they’ll spoil.
Depending on your intended purpose for the berries, freeze them accordingly.
If you want to use them in jams, pies or smoothies, you can freeze them in a freezer bag or pot. They’ll come out in a big cluster—but this won't matter if you blend them.
If you want the fruit to come out as individual berries, spread them out on a baking tray and freeze them, removing them later for a tasty breakfast snack.
Alternatively, you can puree the berries first then freeze the liquid in a bag or ice cube tray.
What to Do with Them?
There are countless recipes you can try once you return home from your blackberry-picking jaunt. Your haul of sweet berries will go excellently in desserts and preserves, as well as being a delicious addition to savoury meat dishes.
Blackberry sauce tastes stunning with venison, or serve the berries whole with pigeon or other game meats.
Add blackberry coulis to ice-cream, pancakes and jelly or a layer with meringue for a tantalisingly tasty pud.
Or, make blackberry gin or vodka. Mash them up lightly with sugar, before sieving them into the booze bottle. (You can make sloe gin in a similar fashion.)
Here are three of our favourite recipe ideas:
Blackberry jam is great on toast, scones or pancakes. For a true taste of autumn, make your own preserve with the berries you pick. The golden rule is: whatever the blackberries weigh, use the same amount in sugar.
Blackberry jam recipes are easy to find and simple to carry out.
Blackberry and Bourbon Milkshake
These boozy milkshakes are real crowd-pleasers. The bourbon adds spicy notes while the blackberries add freshness to the shake. They don’t only taste great but also get you a little bit tipsy.
Make them for your friends at dinner parties; they’re so good you’ll have to force your guests to leave! Add your homemade blackberry jam to the cocktail to add sweetness and flavour.
Blackberry Ice Lolly
Source: Wikipedia Images
This one is simple and a favourite with children. All you need to do is a make a blackberry puree and then pour it into ice lolly moulds and freeze overnight.
Blackberries: a British love affair
A quintessentially British pastime, blackberry-picking in late summer and early autumn has long formed part of our nation’s culture.
It’s easy to understand why.
First, blackberries are delicious and versatile. Second, they’re free! After all, we Brits are a sweet-toothed bunch and we’re suckers for a bargain.
Growing your own vegetables is another fantastic way to save money and guarantee great-tasting food.
The late-great Seamus Heaney, in his poem ‘Blackberry-Picking’, wonderfully epitomises the joy of this very British activity:
‘You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Heaney’s appraisal of blackberry-picking introduces an almost erotic subtext—the ‘lust for / Picking’, which coincides with late summer’s sultry air, induces images of wayward romance and furtive rolls in the hay.
Much like the latent love affair painted by Heaney, Britain’s relationship with blackberries has endured for centuries—it’s likely to do so for centuries to come.