Disclaimer: I am not an expert nor a professional in the field of food preservation. My expertise comes from personal experience that has been passed down generationally. Always refer to published, up-to-date guides for cooking times. If you need help finding a resource for your area, please let me know. My favorite book on all things food preservation: Putting Food By.
Living here in the PNW, blackberries are a fact of life. People that aren’t from here have this overly romanticized idea of the blackberry and that it is the quintessential Oregonian foodstuff. I even have one set of distant cousins that have gone so far as to try to get them to grow in Iowa. All I can do is shake my head and wonder why they would want to inflict such pain on the rest of their unsuspecting state. I love the taste blackberries, but if any plant can be accused of being sent straight from Hell, this is the one. My family has been battling blackberries since the original homestead and it is never ending. If you turn your back for a minute, you’ve lost your house underneath a mountain of thick, sinister, sticker bushes. We Oregonians are a crafty bunch, so we fight, but we also learn to find the silver lining, so-to-speak. Making food with the fruit of this evil is like flipping the bird to the Devil.
This post is inspired by my dad’s hard work on the family ranch. At this moment, he seems to be winning, but like I said, turn your back for a minute…
I visited last weekend to do some work on the ranch and noticed that it will only be a few weeks and there will be berries available for picking. The bushes around my house will be a bit longer because they are more in the shade, but berry picking season is almost upon us! Berry picking is hard work and requires thick pants and long sleeves, but the pay-off is delicious. So if you live in a place with wild blackberries, grab some five gallon buckets and get to work!
A few points to consider:
- Do not pick near a roadway. This is pretty self-explanatory, but you really don’t want all the road grime and exhaust business to make it into your jam.
- Do not pick near railroad tracks. I’ve seen people do this and I don’t think they realize all the toxic chemicals that are in railroad ties. This leaches into the soil and, subsequently, into anything that grows in that soil.
- Make sure the berries you are picking haven’t recently been sprayed. If someone is using and herbicide to control their blackberries, it won’t be apparent right away. It takes a bit for the herbicide to effect the plant and to cause outward signs of death.
- Keep your eyes peeled for Drosophila larvae. This is a fruit fly and the larvae eat the crap out of ripening fruit. Get out and harvest berries as soon as you see they are ripe to avoid having to throw out too much fruit. Here is an article on how to catch and manage this pest from the Oregon State University Extension Service.
Once you have your fruit, you will want to process it as soon as possible. Most people will want to make jams or jellies, but blackberries are also great for freezing. You can freeze them individually (lay them out on a cookie sheet to freeze before putting into a bag) or just stuff them into freezer bags as is. My family has always frozen them in measurements for a recipe called Blackberry Pudding. A little taste of Summer all year long.
If you have never made jam before (I always do jam because it is less work than jelly), keep in mind that you can make it with or without pectin. Pectin allows the fruit to “set” and gives it a solid vs. syrup-y consistency. Pectin natural occurs in fruits, but is less available in overripe fruits. The last time I made jam, I opted for no added pectin, but my fruit was too ripe and I ended up with more syrup than jam. Live and learn… If you are feeling extra adventurous, you can make your own pectin! The book I linked at the beginning of this post has two recipes for homemade pectin.
Any questions? This is purposely rather vague because I just want to get your gears turning. There are many resources for recipes and I don’t want to be redundant. Click the picture below for one such recipe…if you dare.
The Of Course I Can! Series: