Seasonal Foods: Wild Blackberries

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAre you a West Coast native? If so, you may be familiar with the Himalayan Blackberry, a variety of blackberry that was brought to the US in 1885 for food production because of it’s large, sweet fruit. It quickly became an invasive species and spread all over the temperate US. I can remember from a very young age seeing creek beds, empty ditches, vacant lots, and hillsides absolutely covered in them. They are impartial to the city or countryside, growing vigorously all over the state of California. Their sweet canes are delicious to goats, and you may have seen herds of them munching hillsides covered in blackberry.

Every summer, it’s a Bay Area tradition to go wild blackberry foraging. We are, after all, descendants of gatherers, and I feel a very strong natural inclination to hunt for these guys for hours on end. Many of my friends behave like depression-era hoarders, and I never have trouble finding someone who wants to go blackberry picking with me. It’s an invasive species, so I never feel bad about taking as many as I want. In fact, the big patches in my neighborhood are mostly picked-over by the end of summer, but I know of a few patches that others don’t.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou don’t have to be Iso Rabins to forage your own blackberries. Chances are, you already know of a patch or fifty within a three mile radius of your home. If you live in a big city with no vegetation, just ask a friend. All you need is a basket, a glove (I use latex so I can still feel around but not get poked by thorns), sunscreen, long sleeves, sturdy shoes, and maybe a blanket to throw over the brambles in front of you so you can reach the untouched, fat, delicious berries farther back. (I learned that trick from a 10 year old girl I saw picking berries along Lucas Valley road in Marin). It’s always a good idea to taste some samples from your chosen patch first, as some patches taste better than others.

Another thing to keep in mind while foraging blackberries is to avoid patches along busy roads. The berries have all sorts of nooks & crannies along with really thin and delicate skin. They are essentially covered in road grime, exhaust particles and other nasty stuff that you don’t want to eat or feed to your family & friends. Try to find bushes off the beaten path, those are less likely to be picked over anyhow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce you get all of your delicious blackberries home, what will you do with them? I like to lay mine out in a single layer on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper and pop them into the freezer. This flash-freezes them, preserving their peak-of-summer sweetness and bracing acidity. After they freeze, I pack them into freezer-safe mason jars and use them all throughout the year when I’m feeling nostalgic for summer. They are great with peaches in desserts, cooked down into a syrup or made into a pie. Throw them into a bowl of oatmeal or put them into your Sunday morning pancakes. The options are really endless, use them as you would any other fruit and bask in the notion that you didn’t pay a dime for them.

If you are uncomfortable with scaling hillsides or put off by the idea of thorns, you can always visit Swanton Berry Farm on Highway 1 near Año Nuevo State Park. They have rows and rows of kid-friendly, delicious, thorn-less blackberries that you can pick yourself and pay for. They are a different variety than the wild blackberries, but they are just as if not more delicious. They also grow strawberries, ollalieberries and kiwi fruit.

How do you use your wild-foraged blackberries? Let us know in the comments!