Bramble etiquette

This is post is one of a series I wrote a few years ago as part of some food writing I was doing at the time. Sadly, the little bramble-munching loon-pupper mentioned down the page is no longer with us, but I liked the reminders of her, so I kept the mentions in.

Interestingly, there is a very definite divide between Scotland and England in terms of what to call this much-loved hedgerow fruit – here in Scotland they call them brambles, but I was raised calling them blackberries. Honestly, I got a lot of perplexed looks in the office when I presented my Blackberry Crumble Cake for comment.

Anyway. These rules also apply to wild raspberries, which are still my favourite surprise find since moving to Scotland. How amazing is it that you can pick raspberries here??

The Blackberry-house Rules

Autumn is a fantastic time for all kinds of home-grown goodies, long muddy walks and cosy evenings in by the fire. The weather has been pretty atrocious over the last couple of weeks – handy if you have a grumpy little dog who would like the world to herself, not so handy if you had a lot of hopes resting on a mid-autumn blackberry crop (blackberrying post-monsoon is never enjoyable).

Blackberries are like nature’s Maltesers – really more-ish, you can eat them in handfuls, and… er, well that’s it to be honest. Ok, blackberries are better than nature’s Maltesers – more versatile, better for you, everything. Certain etiquettes apply when on a foraging session, however:

  1. Jeans and wellies are a must, but anyone who has ever lived anywhere rural during the rainy season (June to April) knows this. The J&W combo will protect you from all manner of mean stingy things, and allow you to go tramping way further into brambly terrain than you could ever hope to go in say, hotpants and flipflops. If you wanted to be really hardcore and protect the arms too, you could go double-denim, but in my opinion, no amount of homemade blackberry tarte tatin will excuse that. Glamour magazine can witter on as much as they like about it being in fashion again, but… no, just no. (On an amusing yet irrelevant note: my computer just auto-corrected ‘wellies’ to ‘willies’. As far as I know, you don’t necessarily need a willy to go blackberrying – in case you were worrying.)
  2. It’s all in the squeeze! This is going to make me sound like a character out of a Laurie Lee book, but I used to have a summer job as a fruit-picker at a fruit farm. This was a little mantra to remember for soft-skinned fruit that I can’t quite remember, though doubtless if I write it down it’ll just sound pervy. Be gentle with the poor buggers anyway, they’re only blackberries.
  3. Pick as much as you need, because greediness is kind of unattractive – I hate getting evil stares from a fellow blackberry-er when you come across their patch; especially those mothers who station their five or six children at intervals along a hedge like little fruit-picking sentinels. Plus, once you’ve picked a certain amount (usually around the 3 kilo mark), you stop being choosy about which ones are actually any good, and they all go in – the tiny hard ones that make your face pucker up, to the big flat squishy ones that are a weeny bit past their best. I have a freezer not much bigger than a glove compartment, thus rendering any post-pick storing for later completely pointless. As a result, I tend to only pick about a kilo, because…
  4. People do not enjoy your blackberry jam as much as you think they will. Even you won’t enjoy it after the fourth or fifth jar. I once went to a close relative’s house, and found two jars of blackberry jam from different years, still full to about an inch from the top, at the back of the fridge. Just sayin’.
  5. Don’t bring someone who is just along for the eating, or the mission will be quite literally fruitless. A certain dog who is a few sausage rolls short of a picnic and inexplicably enjoys blackberries, for example, or a toddler in a pushchair. My mother enjoys telling a story about coming home with me when I was about 2, looking like I’d faceplanted in a vat of Ribena, having taken me out blackberrying only to have me demand a fairly constant supply, via grabby hands and the repetition of ‘blackbees blackbees blackbees’.

And finally…

Do not write a poem about it.

Seamus Heaney I’m talking to you.

Happy picking!

Psst – hop over to my page on how to make jam from the fruit you’ve picked! (It’s not as hard as it looks!)


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