Few late summer activities are as typically British as rooting through a hedgerow in search of blackberries. The hardy brambles that grow the plump little fruits thrive anywhere from dense woodlands to wasted shrubbery, making the blackberry extremely common.
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Blackberries are also a particularly good introduction to foraging, as they are easily recognisable and are relatively simple to pluck. A popular childhood activity, blackberry-picking is a common introduction to foraging for many people.
Blackberries - here are some bizarre and fascinating facts about this favourite fruit.
1. The devil ruins blackberries after Michaelmas
One of the most famous English folk stories states that blackberries should not be picked after Michaelmas Day as the devil has urinated on them, angry after he fell from Heaven onto a blackberry bush. The legend has some truth as wetter and cooler weather in late October often allows the fruit to spoil, but it should not be taken literally – blackberries picked in late October can still be very tasty!
2. Batology is the scientific study of blackberries
Thought it was the study of bats? You were wrong! Chiropterology is the study of bats. Just to confuse you even further – a batologist is defined as someone who studies blackberries but is also frequently and probably mistakenly used a colloquial and humorous term for someone who studies bats.
3. Truces were called in the Civil War to pick blackberries
During the Civil War, blackberry tea was said to be the best cure for dysentery. Temporary truces were declared throughout the conflict to allow both Union and Confederate soldiers to forage for blackberries. It was not completely successful however, as outbreaks of dysentery still plagued the soldiers throughout the war.
4. Bramble thorns caused the downfall of one Greek hero
The Greeks enjoyed blackberries and believed them to be a cure for mouth and throat diseases. According to Greek mythology, the hero Belleraphon was thrown into brambles after he dared to ride the Pegasus to Mount Olympus. He was blinded by the thorns in his fall and wandered alone and outcast thereafter.
5. Eating blackberries makes you look younger!
This one is not a myth – blackberries are rich in anti-oxidants that promote the healthy tightening of tissue, making your skin less likely to sag or wrinkle!
6. Blackberries have been used as hair dye
Nicholas Culpeper, an English herbalist from the 1600s, recommended the blackberry leaf to be used as hair dye. He advised that the leaves were to be boiled in a lye solution in order to “maketh the hair black”.
7. Unripe blackberries are red, not green
Blackberry fruit are red in colour, rather than green, before they are ripe. There is an old expression that “blackberries are red when they’re green”.
8. Their purple colour is said to represent Christ’s blood
Tradition also claims that the blackberry’s deep purple colour represents Christ’s blood and the crown of thorns was made of brambles.
9. Bramble branches can cure hernias and boils
According to English folklore, passing under the archway formed by a bramble branch can cure hernias, ruptures, pimples and boils. This has also been used as a remedy for “downer” cows, cows that for whatever reason are unable to stand.
10. Don’t mistake them for the black raspberry!
The blackberry should not be confused with the black raspberry, which looks almost identical. The easiest way to tell the difference is by the core. Blackberries will always have a white core, with part of the stem still attached, whereas black raspberries are hollow in the center as the stem is left behind when picked. Black raspberries are a treat to find though – they are less tart than blackberries and make excellent jams.
Where to look for blackberries:
You will find blackberries in woods, hedges, heaths, roadside verges, and possibly even your garden. Brambles are usually found in a tangled straggly clump, with prickly, toothed leaves that turn reddish green in the autumn. The berries should be a deep, purple-black when picked. Blackberries are at their best towards the latter half of summer, peaking in August and early September.
Top spots for picking blackberries
Brambles can be found in most woodlands, but here is a small selection of places to start your blackberry hunt.
National Trust's Tyntesfield near Bristol offers rich pickings, with the woodlands stuffed full of tasty blackberries.
New Forest, Hampshire offers excellent blackberry picking and is a scenic spot for a blackberry walk.
A more urban blackberry picking spot is Wimbledon Common in south west London. Commons are often quite wild in places, giving brambles chance to thrive.
Wistman’s Wood, Dartmoor is another atmospheric spot. Creep beneath lichen-covered boughs of a woodland that has remained unspoilt for hundreds of years, and hunt for blackberries.
Take a walk to a rare and precious limewood at Limewoods, Lincolnshire. where the new bright green leaves are the essence of springtime and it is possible to see white admiral and brown hairstreak butterflies.
Head deep into Haldon Forest Park to discover the secrets of the park's magnificent trees.
Explore idyllic woodland, a treasure trove of nature for children to investigate while picking at Holyford Woods, Devon,
Kielder Forest, Northumberland. Walk an epic lakeside path or observe the mysteries of the universe in a beautiful man-made landscape.
Simple tips for cooking with blackberries
Once you've brought your blackberries home, wash well with cold water and leave to soak with a little salt to kill any bugs.
Use up a glut of blackberries with these easy recipes
Blackberry and apple mini pies
These mini pies are the perfect things to make with the handfuls of blackberries you are sure to pick on your Sunday stroll, says Sian Lewis.
- Two or three cups of blackberries
- Two apples
- Honey and/or berry jam
- Brown sugar
- A sheet of filo pastry
- Custard or double cream to serve
Heat the oven to 150c. Cut the apples into small cubes and cook them in a small pan with a little water until soft. Add the blackberries to the apples and sweeten with three or four tablespoons of berry jam or honey, then sieve the mixture. Cut your sheet of chilled filo pastry into six squares. Add a spoonful of the berry mixture into the centre of each square and fold the corners of the pastry into the centre to form a pie shape. When you’ve folded up six little parcels, sprinkle them with brown sugar, space them out evenly on a buttered baking sheet and pop them in the oven for half an hour, or until golden. Serve hot with custard or cream.
Easy apple and blackberry crumble
Enjoy the classic crumble flavour all over again with this timeless recipe. By Richard Aslan.
- 50g butter
- 50g oats
- 50g plain white flour
- 50g caster sugar
- 300g cooking apples
- 200g blackberries, washed and drained
- Cinnamon, ginger and allspice to taste
Peel, core and dice the apples. Arrange with the blackberries into the base of a medium-sized ovenproof dish. If you prefer a sweeter crumble, sprinkle the fruit with a little sugar. In a large bowl, using your fingertips, mix the sugar, oats, flour, spices and butter until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs. If it is too sticky, add a little more flour. Spread the topping over the fruit evenly, making sure all the fruit is covered. Bake at 180°C for about 45 mins, or until the topping is golden and the fruit is bubbling up. Serve hot with ice cream, custard or cream.
Apple and blackberry crumble squares
Like the best-ever fruit crumble in a cuttable, transportable bar. What’s not to love? By Genevieve Taylor.
- 2 medium cooking apples (about 550-600g whole weight), peeled, cored & diced
- 150g blackberries
- 2-3 tbsp granulated sugar, to taste
- 100ml water
- 200g butter, softened
- 200g light brown sugar
- 200g self raising flour
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 150g porridge oats
You will also need a 20x30 cm tin, about 2cm deep, greased & lined with baking paper.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Add the apple, blackberries, sugar and water to a medium pan. Cover and simmer gently until soft – about 8-10 minutes. Set aside. Whizz together the butter and sugar in a food processor until creamed. Add the flour and bicarbonate of soda and pulse until combined; the mixture will be quite crumbly. Lastly, add the oats and pulse again until mixed. Tip about two thirds of the crumble mix into the prepared tin and press down well with the back of a spoon. Spread the fruit all over the base evenly. Sprinkle over the remaining crumble mixture then bake for 25 minutes until the top is crisp and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin before cutting into squares.
Blackberry and apple sorbet
Using golden syrup instead of granulated sugar gives a softer texture to this smooth, fruity sorbet. Blackberries that you pick yourself from the hedgerow taste far more intense than the big fat ones you buy in the shops, so I would urge you to make this sorbet when the wild blackberries are in season. By Genevieve Taylor.
- 1kg cooking apples (about 3 large ones)
- 450g blackberries
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 125g golden syrup
Peel, core and chop the apples and drop them into a saucepan, along with the blackberries and lemon juice. Weigh in the syrup, set over a low heat and allow to cook until the fruit is really smooth with a stick blender or liquidiser. Pass the puree through a medium-fine sieve to remove the pips. Set the puree aside to go completely cold – spreading out into a shallow tray will speed the process along considerably. Once the puree is cold, scoop it into a deep-sided tub and put it in the freezer. After an hour in the freezer, remove the tub and pulse the semi-liquid sorbet with a stick blender to break up the ice crystals. Return to the freezer for a further hour, then repeat step 2. The sorbet will eventually take around six hours, or even overnight, to freeze. If you have time, repeat blend once or twice more before finally leaving well alone to freeze solid. Simply put, the more you whizz it up as it freezes, the smaller the ice crystals will become, and the smoother and silkier the final sorbet will be.
This simple recipe is quick and easy to make and is a great way for all the family to enjoy this season’s blackberries.
- 675g blackberries
- 160g sugar
- 300g wholemeal flour
- 150g butter
Put the blackberries into water and leave for an hour to wash them and ensure that no bugs have survived. Strain, place them in an ovenproof container and cover with half the sugar. Sift the flour into a bowl and rub in butter, then slowly add the remaining sugar. Pile the mix over the fruit and pop in an oven at 200C/400F/Gas 6). Bake for 35 mins.
Made into a syrupy coulis, blackberries are perfect with ice cream or pancakes. By James and Holly Strawbridge.
- 250g blackberries
- 50g caster sugar
- 1/2tsp vanilla extract
Place the blackberries in a pan with the caster sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer until the fruit is soft. Then stir in the vanilla extract. Let it cool a little then strain through a sieve to remove the seeds. You can serve it warm or chilled and it freezes well.
Forget balsamic vinegar – make something equally useful and extremely cheaply with blackberries. Blackberry vinegar is great in salad dressings or used as a cordial to treat colds. By James and Holly Strawbridge.
- 450g blackberries
- White wine vinegar
Steep the blackberries in just enough white wine vinegar to cover them. Cover the bowl. After about four days, strain the blackberries and liquid through a sieve or muslin. Place the resulting liquid in a pan and add 225g sugar to every 275ml of liquid. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Cool, then bottle.
How to store blackberries
Fresh blackberries will last a day or two but blackberries ripen quickly - losing flavour and condition, so if you have a glut to use up it is worth freezing. Wash the blackberries and set aside to dry before spreading in thin layers in a container and popping in the freezer for a later date. Alternatively, you can stew with a little suger and puree, again freezing or keeping in the fridge.
Main image: Getty
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