Ubiquitous Backcountry Blackberries
The very first thing I ever ate off my own land was a blackberry. I was trying to follow an old sugar bush trail when my shirt caught on something prickly. I glanced over to find a cane full of big, black, glossy berries. Into my mouth the lot went and they were so good I decided then and there to preserve the forgotten thicket.
That first hint of possibility was enchanting. Look at what the earth is already producing, without any intervention! Like a delicious jewel.
I would come to find that we’re surrounded by multitudes of native edibles, but that first rush was special.
Everyone recognizes a blackberry when they see one: dark, shiny, and enticing!
The blackberry bush, or bramble, has a perennial root system with fruit-bearing canes that live for two years (biennial). Therein lies the trick when it comes to taking care of a blackberry (and raspberry) plant. Since I stumbled on those wild blackberry bushes, I’ve gotten into the pruning groove and our harvests are even more prolific than before. Well, the actual number of berries hasn’t changed that much but it’s a heck of a lot easier to get at them with all the old canes removed.
Pruning is necessary if you want your blackberry canes to flourish. Luckily it’s pretty easy to know which canes to cut out. Anything that’s brown and woody looking can go. You can cut back the cane after you’ve harvested them, since they won’t produce again.
Most backyard gardeners will plant their blackberries along a pre-existing trellis like a fence or low wall, but they can also grow in a clump. The flower is small and dainty, with white or pale pink flowers. As the fruit ripens, it turns from green, to red, to black.
The main difference between the blackberry and the raspberry is that the centre of the blackberry (the torus) stays in the fruit when it’s picked from the cane. Raspberries are shaped like little bowls when picked whereas blackberries are solid throughout.
2500-year-old partially digested blackberries were found in the stomach of the Haraldskær Woman, which are probably the oldest physical berries, let alone blackberries, on earth. She was found preserved in a bog in Denmark, mummified in the peat.
What’s good for the ancient Viking mummy is good for, well, everyone. The popularity of the blackberry endures to this day, and it’s one of the most cultivated small fruits in the world.
Picking blackberries is definitely a “two for me, one for you” situation. It’s hard not to eat the better part of the harvest as you go. I remember my grandmother giving us kids margarine tubs and telling us to come back when they were full so she could make pies––it took all of my will power to fill mine up, and that was after I’d eaten half of what I picked.
Luckily, the berries ripen over time and not in one fell swoop, so the likelihood that you’ll be able to control yourself is stronger.
The tartness compliments rich savoury dishes as well, and a blackberry sauce goes well with gamey meat dishes.