Blackberry season is upon us! They’re tasty, nutritious, budget friendly, fun, and your civic duty to pick them, so get out there and get some. Like most produce in Oregon the season is several weeks late, but all that unseasonal rain has made for plump, juicy berries.
Yes, picking blackberries is your civic duty. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating…a little. A blackberry plant’s mission in life is to reproduce. They do this in two ways, by sending out shoots that root and produce a new plant and by producing berries. They’re really good at reproduction; so good that they are considered an invasive species.
The blackberries that we see creating vast green mounds is the Himalayan blackberry, an invasive foreign species. The native blackberry is a much more mild mannered plant with its own unique foliage and taste. By picking blackberries, and the inevitable pruning while doing so, you’ll help limit their reproduction.
Fun and Budget Friendly
Blackberry picking is a fun and budget friendly summer activity. It can be done as a group or individual activity. I find it an excellent active meditation. It’s an activity that requires you to be present in the moment. You have to be mindful of the thorns, use care in plucking the delicate, juicy berries, and watch your surroundings.
This might be a good time to mention safety. You need to be aware of your surroundings while picking. Berry patches often grow on uneven ground or along ditches. The plants growth pattern won’t alert you to the changing ground level. Step tentatively when you can’t see exactly where you’re stepping and look down when you step forward for that berry just out of reach.
Another safety point, humans are not the only species that like berries. A wide variety of birds, mammals, and insects will be either living or feeding on the same berry pile you are. The lovely spider on the right is an example. That spider won’t bother you, but on a recent berry trip I ran into someone that had found a wasp nest and had been stung several times. He had almost stepped on their nest while reaching for the berries. After giving him some bite medicine I had to comment that I would have stung him as well if my home was endangered. There are stories of people picking on one side of a bush only to find a bear picking on the other side. Keep your eyes open and stay safe.
It’s easy to find places to pick berries in the Willamette Valley, they’re everywhere. You should be able to find a free or low cost area to pick. You want to find a pesticide free area. Many land owners and government agencies will spray to control the blackberry vines. The sprays they use will not be approved for produce. Another location to avoid is along roadways. I cringe when I see people in ditches or stopped along the side of the road picking berries, all that exhaust and road grime. Look for patches that are green and healthy. If you make sure your berries are clean when you pick them, you can skip washing them when you get them home. Not washing them will help keep them intact as the water will break the berry down and wash out flavor.
Make sure you have permission from the owner if you want to pick berries on private property. Many people don’t want strangers on their property if for no other reason than liability issues. Public areas like parks and wildlife refuges are a great place. Even if there is a small daily fee, by the time you pick a gallon or two the cost will be very small compared to purchasing picked berries. You also get all that time in the sun experiencing nature.
A few supplies will make your berry adventure even better, but there’s really only one thing you need: a berry container. Just about anything will work. Keep in mind that blackberries stain, heat breaks them down, and they will crush easily. I use empty milk or vinegar jugs with a hole cut in the side or small plastic buckets (like the kind cheap ice cream comes in). They’re easily found, cost nothing, reusable, and easily recycled when you’re done so there’s nothing to store or worry about staining.
A pair of pruners or clippers is a good idea. The berries form on 2nd year growth and this year’s growth is often in the way. If you’re on private property, please check with the landowner before pruning the bushes. I add a pair of gloves as well. I can’t pick in them, I have to be able to feel the berry so I don’t crush it, but if I have to do some pruning they’re nice to have. Something to carry your supplies in is nice, I have a waitress apron that works well for me. Everything is right there, easy to reach.
Keep your eyes out for other produce. Where I pick berries there are wild apple, plum, and cherry trees. I picked a bushel of apples in addition to a couple gallons of berries on one trip. The apples won’t be grocery or fruit stand quality, but I like free so I won’t complain. I’ll just pick more to account for what will have to be cut out.
Nutritious & Tasty
Blackberries are low in calories, high in fiber and vitamins. The stats per 1 cup of berries:
- Calories 62
- Fat 0.71 g
- Fiber 7.6 g
- Vitamin C 30.2 mg
- Folate 36 mcg
They’re also high in antioxidants, http://berryhealth.fst.oregonstate.edu/health_healing/fact_sheets/blackberry_facts.htm
All that good stuff and they taste good? Why yes, sometimes life is good. Most of the berries I picked this year, many gallons worth, were frozen and stored for making smoothies this winter. Blackberries are as easy as any berry to freeze. You can either toss them into a container or freeze them individually on a tray. If you plan on thawing the berries before using them, the former option works fine. If you’ll be using the berries frozen, you’ll want to freeze them individually and then transfer them to a container. Freezing them individually keeps them from freezing together. Freezing individually requires careful picking and transporting. You don’t want squished berries.
There are many blackberry recipes out there, but a go to family favorite is Blackberry Cobbler. It’s quick, easy, and I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t like this cobbler recipe.
Blackberry season is not only upon us, it’s swiftly passing. So get out there and get some berries while the getting’s good. Happy Eating!
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