They are the free harvest of the month of September. Brambles are despised as a wild shrubby weed, yet their fruits can make a highly delicious dessert; not always though. There can be problems with blackberries. Sometimes the fruits are tasteless or bitter. Maggots can easily take the first bite out of your dinner. But with the earliest windfall Bramley apples in a homemade pie they are at their best.
They are almost universal in England, growing on dry heathlands or along the banks of rivers with equal vigour. Across large tracts of the globe they are equally at home. The fruits appear very different however, the waterside producing great big juicy berries, while the hot dry sands give you small tight ones. Yet these can be the most delicious of all.
It never ceases to surprise me how few people pick blackberries. Because they are free they are undervalued. Someone who wants to stew fruit will buy an expensive pack of blueberries which do not grow wild in East Anglia (although the similar whinberry grows on the moors in the north and west) . They are grown as a a commercial crop, and they are relatively tasteless. At the same time countless millions of blackberries drop to the ground unheeded. That they are sweet and tasty is proved by the flies who are more discriminating, and do not swarm around blueberry bushes or even raspberries.
Mention of raspberries brings me to another wild shrub which is to be found in the hedgerows of Norfolk and Suffolk, and although the fruit are tasty enough, they do not grow in profusion. Although I could walk to a raspberry patch from where I am sitting as I use my computer it would only produce a few handfuls of fruit; a pleasant snack but no feast. Anyway, I would not need to pick the raspberries, because they grow much better in our garden. The reverse is true of blackberries, of which the cultivated variety is rather inferior to the wild; I think the breeding of a thornless plant has maybe also robbed the blackberry of some of its flavour. Nevertheless not being very mobile these days I have bought a cultivated blackberry; but the flavour is rather disappointing.
Crab apples are quite plentiful in the hedgerows of East Anglia but although crab apple jelly is delicious and also free (apart from the sugar) the making of it takes time and application. The straining of the pulp to produce the jelly cannot be hurried. Most people do not have a jelly bag, which means roping in a pillow case to use, and rigging up some way of hanging it up. It must be left for several hours, and then you have a pillowcase to wash. Elderberries are plentiful but only good for making wine, and that is an even longer job than making crab apple jelly. I will not here go through all the laborious stages. By comparison your blackberries go straight into the saucepan to stew; or you even can eat them raw.
Picking blackberries needs a little bit of care. The best ones are always just out of reach, so it is advisable to go with a walking stick. The thorns of a bramble bush are not savage like those of a sloe, but you need to be a bit cautious all the same. We are fortunate that there is no great problem with adders in Norfolk. They coexist with brambles in some heaths, but there are few heaths left in Norfolk. I have heard that although blackberries abound on Victoria Island in Canada, so too do snakes. I have never been to Western Canada, but I have been to Montreal, which was crawling with the slithery reptiles.
Commons, country lanes, odd forgotten corners are all perfect for blackberrying, and no one will accuse you of depleting a scarce resource, stealing somebody’s fruit or picking a wild plant. I am a great admirer of the humble blackberry, so regarded.