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Free Blackberries - Foraging and Uses

Summertime is berry time in much of the northern world. The blackberries, at least here in the state of Washington, are plump by July and ready for eating all summer long. You can plan an entire afternoon collecting berries, eating some for a picnic, and taking the rest home for some elegant, healthy treats.

Blackberry Picking

The best way to pick blackberries: head to any park, hiking trail or cycling greenbelt flanked with the twisty, thorny bushes, and start picking. Blackberry bushes make thick, impenetrable thickets in boggy lowlands and low grassy areas close to bodies of water. The purple berries are the ones to pick and they should come right off the vine with the slightest tug.

If you are foraging for berries to take home, make sure you are ready with a sturdy container to hold them. I like a wide-mouthed Nalgene bottle for simple afternoon pickings, or a sturdy, large basket for serious collecting. Using a baggie is less satisfying to the soul, and can also result in squished berries and a sticky, leaky bag.

If you are using a bugspray while picking, make sure you have none on your hands. You don't want toxins to get on your food, and into your body.

Other blackberry picking gear includes thick cotton pants (denim or Carharts work well) for wading into thorn territory, closed-toed shoes for the same reason, and possibly a set of garden gloves. I prefer to use my hands, so as not to bruise the berries, and to improve my hand-eye coordination - a pricked finger learns quickly what not to pluck!

Take only the blackest, most plump blackberries, from the branch. Leave the red and pink berries to continue to develop (for the next people happening by, and for the birds and other creatures that depend on berries for survival). If you only select the berries that are ready to fall anyway, you will not be denuding the branches! Be sure to ask landowner's permission if you are berry-picking on private land. :)

Blackberry Uses

Once you have your blackberries at home, give them a good, gentle rinsing under cold water. Use a large collander, and spread berries out on paper towels to dry. I actually have a large, clean mesh screen that I use for my berry rinsing and drying. I found this screen for 69 cents at Goodwill, but you can easily make one of your own, of of window screen mesh, stapled to four strips of wood.

Set aside berries for immediate use. Freeze or dehydrate the rest. Or make your own jam preserves with the bounty.

You can use fresh or frozen berries over ice cream, in smoothies, in Blackberry Margeritas (Use berry vodka and a rim of sugar crystals), in pies, cobblers and tarts, and, of course, in the raw for a snack.

Dehydrated berries are great in trail mixes, tossed into fresh green salads with a vinegar-type dressing, or rehydrated for more traditional uses. You can use dehydrated blackberries in potpourri and for other crafting ideas.

Pickled blackberries are another gourmet option to consider experimenting with. Or make your own blackberry wine and blackberry vinegars!

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