Someone once wrote to me in a huff to say that you absolutely could not pick blackberries around Puget Sound in July. This was after I had posted online photographic evidence to the contrary. But she had grown up here, darn it, and knew this to be true.
Where had I really gone to pick such beautiful blackberries in early summer?
August may be the month when most blackberry pickers get out their buckets and mosey over to the nearest briar patch. But pickers in the know have already been busy for a month. That’s because our native blackberry ripens earlier than the nonnative weedy varieties. The trailing blackberry, as it’s called for its habit of trailing along on the ground rather than standing up on canes, is easy to overlook. It’s demure and unobtrusive, whereas its cousin—the nonnative Himalayan blackberry—is thorny and in your face.
More importantly, the berries of our native variety are firm, sweet, complex and earning plaudits from chefs around town, who recognize their superior culinary attributes enough to namecheck them on menus these days.
The thing is, you’ll need to work harder for a bucket full of trailing blackberries. Besides producing smaller fruit, they’re not nearly as prolific as their weedy relatives, and those found deep within the shady forest hardly produce at all. My advice is to look for them in places where sunlight penetrates the canopy. Though you can find trailing blackberries in the city, they’ll often be in the dark corners of parks, where they don’t have to compete with the weeds. Try getting outside the city and looking along forest edges, in old burns or in clearcuts.
I’ll often pick trailing blackberries and red huckleberries at the same time. They like the same habitat of low-elevation mixed forest, and they look terrific together on a tart or in a fruit cocktail. If you’re industrious, you can pick enough for a cobbler and really wow your dinner guests, some of whom might have trouble believing you picked blackberries in July at all.
Blackberry Crumble Recipe
This is an easy recipe originally written for peaches, but it works well with blackberries or other fruit. The baking time seems long, but you want to make sure you get that crispy edge. Keep an eye on the topping; when it’s nicely browned, it’s done.
4–5 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed
6 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into
3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Grease an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Layer bottom evenly with berries.
2. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or knife. Sprinkle over berries.
3. Bake at 375 degrees until lightly browned and crispy on top, about 45 minutes.
Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.