Millennia before foraging became trendy, Neolithic people were gathering blackberries, and we haven’t stopped since.
For most of the year, brambles are an inconvenience; tough, thorny and very quick to spread, they are a headache for gardeners, but for a few weeks they redeem themselves with fat, delicious blackberries. Wildlife takes full advantage of this bounty – it’s perfectly timed for badgers fattening up for winter, birds getting ready to migrate and butterflies feeding on the over-ripe or rotting fruits.
With over 400 micro-species in the UK, every blackberry seems to taste different, even off the same plant, and indeed the first fruit on each bunch (or panicle) is the fattest and sweetest, with later fruits smaller and more bitter. This may be where the tradition comes from that on Michaelmas (29th September) the Devil spits on the blackberries.
Like many of our native plants, the blackberry has a long-held relationship with good & evil. Brambles were traditionally planted on graves; partly to keep sheep off, but also to keep the dead in and the devil out.
Victorian gentlemen were quite fond of bramble patches, as a stroll through the brambles was the perfect excuse to get up close to a young lady’s skirts as they got snagged on the way through. This is celebrated in poems and mentioned in several stories of the era.
Everybody, from the youngest to oldest can enjoy picking blackberries. In WWI children around Oxfordshire used to earn pocket money picking them for Coopers to make jam for the troops. Blackberry and apple crumble, bramble jelly, blackberry pie – they are delicious, especially in winter puddings, and anything with custard! Remember, if you’re foraging, make 100% sure you know what you’re picking, don’t pick from low down, don’t trespass and only take what you need. As a general rule, no-one should be able to tell where you’ve been.
Brambles may be a pain, but it’s worth it for a few weeks of delicious desserts!