Picking blackberries

by James Alexander-Sinclair

It's blackberry time - not those machines, without which many "suits" would feel emasculated, but fat berries swollen by rain and aching for crumble.

Blackberries growing on a brambleIt's blackberry time - not those machines, without which many "suits" would feel emasculated, but fat berries swollen by rain and aching for crumble.

The blackberry bramble is a weed, and the perfect example of a plant simply growing in the wrong place. If you're unfortunate enough to have one growing in your garden you should hack it out immediately. I have a particularly persistent bramble hiding in one of my borders and I assure you that grasping it with an un-gloved hand causes a lot of damage and a decent helping of pain. However, a bramble scrambling through hedgerows or the edges of woodland, where it's doing no harm is loved by everybody.

The bramble is extraordinarily vigorous. It uses its thorns as grappling hooks to pull it across neighbouring plants, as illustrated in the David Attenborough documentary The Private Life of Plants. But it's the berries we're after. I'm lucky to have lots of hedgerows growing near where I live, so I collect plenty of fruit at this time of year. Obviously we have blackberry and apple crumble, but my wife (I'm a rubbish cook) also does something divine with little sponge puddings and another with mascarpone. I can easily dig out recipes if anybody wants them.

There are some garden-friendly varieties of bramble, such as Loch Ness, which are slightly less impertinent in habit and can yield much larger fruit. For the tastiest berries grow the plants in full sun. And if you're out blackberrying in the wild, don't bother picking fruit from north-facing brambles.

The bramble's main problem is, of course, its spikiness. But provided you have a big enough garden then even this can become an advantage. There are some fabulous varieties grown for their stems, notably Rubus thibetianus, which has a spectral white sheen to its stems that looks wonderful in the grey days of winter.

All the same, I'll always prefer picking wild berries. The combination of fresh air, a fair bit of mud (especially this year), the danger of toppling into a prickly ditch and the temptation of eating the plumpest berry before you get home is a real joy. There's bit of light philosophy involved as well as you wonder why, oh why the best berries are always just out of reach.

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Gardeners' World Web User 17/09/2008 at 11:14

Blackberrying in country hedgerows was an annual activity for the Pasco family when we were kids. The essential tool for anyone considering a few productive hours picking over the next few weeks is .... a walking stick. You really need something to reach out and up to hook onto those 'out of reach' branches which, as you say James, always carry the biggest, juiciest fruits!

Gardeners' World Web User 17/09/2008 at 21:31

I remember picking brambles as a child next to my Gran's back garden and she made the most amazing bramble and plum jam - together with her famous vanilla cream and scones it was heavenly! Cream teas ever since have always been a major let down!

Gardeners' World Web User 18/09/2008 at 11:33

Before I moved house two year ago I had a blackberry which was really a wild one that I cultivated. It was vicious, but was a great cropper.and provided enough fruit to last more than one year.Pruning was great fun. The beast would fight back to the very end,but it's flavour was worth it.I had for 20 years. Now I am trying a thorn-less variety. I will have to be a little more patient before I have a home grown crumble

Gardeners' World Web User 18/09/2008 at 21:41

This is the first year I've been blackberry picking since I was about 8. I took my kids with me and they loved it! We have been a few times now and frozen them, we've made Jams and crumbles with what we've collected. We go for a couple of hours at a time, great to get out whilst we can.

Gardeners' World Web User 18/09/2008 at 21:42

I have been out today, here near the North/East coast of Norfolk in the most glorious weather picking blackberries, with the sun on my back and the thorns in my hand (only joking) but it was wonderful. I thought I had only been out for an hour and it had been two hours. Still, I have four large jars of jam to show for my prickles.....

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