Yesterday S and I went out to pick in our rapidly dwindling patch only to find many berries drying up on the plant. Negligent watering and forgetful pickers, I suppose.
He was disappointed that we didn't have enough berries to make another pie, so when friends called to say they were going to pick marionberries at an organic farm nearby, we drove over and joined them.
Picking on a well-tended farm with rows and staked canes is a different experience from rooting around the thorny prickles of a wild-growing bramble, but a few things remain constant:
- You need a bucket with a solid bottom. Paper leaks, and plastic bags send the berries to the bottom in a mush. A hat is also a good idea, and if you are wild harvesting (or in our backyard), a single thornproof glove to push prickly canes out of the way is also useful.
- Walk and pick in one direction, then turn around and walk the opposite way. A surprising number of berries are more visible from a slightly different angle.
- Berries which grow in the shade are the best. In direct sunlight, they can dry out quickly. It's worth lifting canes (see #1, above) to find hidden berries underneath.
- Picking to eating ratio is approximately 3:1. Unless you are a certain unnamed child, in which case the ratio is reversed. (If you're paying to pick, it's good to remember this when you take out your wallet.)
- If the same unnamed child is colorblind, you'll get as many unripe berries as ripe ones. It may help to remember that the berries ripen from inside the triad out; that the calyx, or little cap on top, is going to look lighter when ripe; and that really ripe berries won't need to be tugged at very hard.
- Berries last only a few days in the refrigerator, and do best spread thinly--otherwise, they start to juice themselves from the weight. You can also freeze them in a single layer, then move them to a freezer bag for easier storage.
- And it turns out you can also use those dried-out berries. Last night I picked everything that was overripe, threw the dried ones into the blender, and cooked everything together with water and sugar to make a blackberry syrup (strained after cooling). I suppose it could be used for pancakes or ice cream, but this is what we'll be doing with it on hot summer days:
A Most Refreshing Blackberry Soda
Pour a little blackberry syrup in the bottom of the glass.
Add juice from a wedge of lemon and stir together.
Fill to the top with soda water.
If you're anything like me, you will already have thought about muddling some mint leaves in with the syrup, substituting lime for lemon, adding a splash of rum, and calling it a blackberry mojito. Cheers.