Foraging for wild grown food is frugal and nutritious. Since the start of summer I had been watching the various blackberry patches growing along the train tracks and road sides up here in the Granite Belt. I had romantic notions of me skipping along filling up buckets and my mouth. As a child I used to pick blackberries in Albany, WA.
I love summer berries but even when in season, a punnet can be expensive. The prospect of filling a whole bucket of blackberries for free is awesome. I watched the patches eagerly for weeks. Finally a few days before the end of summer, the number of berries turning from red to black was at an all time high. It was harvest time.
Originally I planned to wander a 1-2 kilometre stretch of barely used railway track that runs parallel to Granite Belt Drive, in The Summit. This path was dripping with berries and fairly accessible. Even though I had not seen any active spraying in the area, I had a few concerns about weed control spraying. It is easy to spot signs of weed kill after a few weeks but not easy to detect recent spraying. Blackberries after all are considered a prolific weed in Australia. Eating recent sprayed berries (even after washing) is not advisable and particularly so for me being 7 months pregnant with the twins at the time. Lucky for me, I found a spray free berry patch on private property behind our studio shop. If you are looking to pick on public property, contact your local council for spraying information.
Armed with basic equipment, I told myself I would be cautious and stick to the edges. Despite my husbands disapproval, I wore a dress and thongs. I did bring gloves, but quickly abandoned these in favour of bare hands. You need to be able to feel the softness of the berry to ascertain ripeness and this is hard to gauge with gloves. I started smugly, with a sense of propriety, managing to avoid scratches, falls and stains. That lasted all of 5 minutes, before the lure of the big berries deep in the patch got too strong. I was balancing on bits of half buried wood, stomping through long grass, getting rips and scratches and pink stained hands but it was so satisfying seeing my bowl quickly fill up.
A few blackberry picking tips:-
- Pick as long as can from the one spot. Try looking from different angles. You will be surprised how much you can pick if you stop to look properly, checking under leaves and down low.
- Only pick ripe berries. Unripe red berries will not ripen once picked.
- Blackberries are easily squashed. If you plan on picking more than a few cups, bring different trays. Berries on the bottom of a large bucket will get bruised and squashed.
- Do not wash the berries until you are ready to use them or freeze them.
- Refrigerate after picking and freeze any surplus for later use.
After about 1 hour, I had a bowl full ( 2 – 3 cups worth). If I was feeling more adventurous, more could be picked. I was happy with the mornings effort. My husband and I washed a few handfuls and ate them fresh and I saved the rest to make a pie.
When I got home I realised we didn’t have a pie tin. I made mini pies instead using a muffin tray. Earlier in the week I found an old 1970’s Margaret Fulton recipe book in an Op-shop. I used to pour over this same book as a child and the dessert pages were thoroughly stained with cake mixture. Purely for nostalgic reasons, I used the Margaret Fulton Lattice Apple Pie pastry recipe. I made the blackberry filling by boiling the blackberries with a bit of brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves. As usual I did not follow any recipe but let the berry mix simmer down like jam for half an hour. I rolled out the chilled pastry, filled up each pie with filling and baked for 30 minutes.
Thick buttery pastry with rich full blackberry flavour – country home cooking at it’s best.
We enjoyed these pies for morning tea the next day.
Late summer coming into the start of autumn is the best time for blackberry picking in the Granite Belt. You can’t miss the berry patches as you drive around the country lanes. I am looking forward to next season already!