The Blackberry: A Taste of the British Countryside
Across the fields and countryside of the UK, one fruit has captured the imagination and taste buds of generations—the blackberry, or as some people call it (including me!) the bramble. This tiny little burst of sweetness boasts a fascinating history and a loads of creative uses. It's often the first fruit people forage when they are barely walking, and as such holds a special place in the hearts of foragers up and down the country.
A Fruit with Ancient Roots
First thing's first. A blackberry is a bramble, and a bramble is a blackberry. There's no difference, just two different names for the same fruit! I'll be using the names interchangeably throughout the blog, as it's what I apparently do in real life!
Brambles have a long-standing history in the UK and are native to these isles. They have been foraged by the people of Britain since ancient times. Archaeological evidence suggests that blackberries were consumed by Neolithic communities, and their remains have been found in Roman settlements across the country. If you want a little taste of our history, hit yourself up with a mouthful of brambles!
Blackberry foraging tips
Blackberries can be very juicy and very soft. So, unless you want your nice clean canvas bag to turn a thrilling shade of purple, put your foraged brambles in a solid container! This will also stop them from being squished under their own weight and you lose some of their valuable juices.
You could use a beautiful wicker basket like this egg-shaped basket from Wrenbury, which can rest over your arm as you pick. These types of basket are great also for mushrooms, as you can lay them flat without fear of putting something on top of them. A great multi-purpose basket! Alternatively, you could opt for a lidded basket like this bamboo storage basket from Garvalon. Really handy when it's wet outside and you don't want your harvest to get soaked. You could even head out with a stash of plastic containers with lids to get your berries back home in one piece.
Brambles can be found anywhere there is open ground. From derelict sites to hedgerows, keep an eye out for their lovely white/pink flowers, then small hard pre-berries (is that a word?) and finally their juicy berries. The stems are spiky so watch out. You shouldn't need gloves to pick them if you are careful, but do watch out for wee ones.
Brambles are harmless to dogs, and if you show them how they might even start picking their own straight off the bush! Just remember that if they have too many they might get a sore tummy (and if you see weird colours in their poop the next day, this is why!).
The blackberry's sweet-tart taste makes it a beloved ingredient in traditional British food. From jams and preserves to pies and crumbles, blackberries have played a starring role in numerous classic recipes. In late summer and early autumn, families venture into the countryside to harvest this delicious fruit, creating cherished memories and delightful treats.
Beyond its culinary uses, the blackberry has a rich history in traditional medicine. In the UK, the leaves, roots, and fruits of the blackberry plant have been employed for their medicinal properties. Ancient Britons believed that blackberry leaves could alleviate the symptoms of various ailments, including sore throats and digestive issues. The fruits, rich in antioxidants and vitamins, were valued for their immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties.
Personally, a bramble jam piece (or sandwich to those outside Scotland!) would always make me feel better if I had been sick. There's something magical about this fruit, and I just love it!
Folklore and Superstitions
The blackberry is intertwined with folklore and superstitions in British culture. In folklore, it was believed that blackberries should not be picked after Michaelmas Day (September 29th) as the devil would have claimed them. Additionally, it was thought that the first blackberry of the season should not be eaten to avoid bad luck. These traditions added a touch of magic and intrigue to the act of gathering blackberries.
But, of course, they are just superstitions. I've been happily grabbing the first blackberry I see and chomping it down without any danger. Also, I eat them until they go all squishy and manky on the plant at which time, yeah, leave them to fall off and wait for another year.
Winemaking and Liqueurs
Blackberries have been utilised in the UK for winemaking and the production of liqueurs. The luscious fruit lends itself beautifully to the creation of homemade wines, cordials, and liqueurs. From blackberry wine to blackberry-infused gins and vodkas, these beverages showcase the fruit's depth of flavor and are enjoyed as a delightful indulgence.
Wildlife Habitat and Conservation
Blackberry bushes, or brambles, provide valuable wildlife habitats in the UK. The dense thickets offer shelter, nesting sites, and a food source for various creatures, including birds, insects, and small mammals. Their presence contributes to the ecological balance and biodiversity of the British countryside, making blackberries an important part of the natural ecosystem.
Behold the bramble!
The blackberry, with its captivating history and versatile uses, holds a special place in the hearts of the people of the United Kingdom. From ancient foragers to modern-day enthusiasts, the allure of this delicious fruit has endured through the ages. Whether enjoyed fresh from the hedgerow, transformed into jams and pies, or infused into beverages, the blackberry remains a cherished ingredient in British culinary traditions.
As you embark on your own blackberry adventure, remember to explore the natural landscapes, follow ethical foraging practices, and savor the sweet rewards nature has to offer. Take a moment to appreciate the rich heritage and cultural significance of this remarkable fruit, and delight in the taste of a truly British treasure—the blackberry.