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Once blackberries hit the hedgerows, make the most of them with our guide to choosing, using and storing these black beauties...
Few things sum up British summertime better than a scramble through a blackberry bush clutching an empty tub of margarine. And, provided you're not trespassing on private property, blackberry picking is a great way of sourcing a cheap summer pud.
Crumbles and pies aside what can you do with the bountiful berry? Here are our top tips for handling all that free fruit...
Like many things in life, the most successful blackberries will be ones that stand out from the crowd. They should be shiny and firm when you pick them though fruits do seem to vary in flavour from place to place. Seasoned blackberry hunters often have favourite bushes whose harvest they prefer to any neighbouring bush. As you can try before you 'buy' shop around to find what suits you, avoiding bushes by busy roads or fruit low enough to be 'watered' by passing dogs.
When to pick
Blackberries are normally at their best at the end of August to September. Legend has it any picked after the end of this month are best avoided as the devil is said to have peed on them. We're not sure this is true but by October the damp weather will have certainly soiled many crops.
Where to pick
Grown in abundance in all manner of hedgerows across the country blackberries are not restricted to rural areas but regularly spotted along canal paths and across wasteland in towns and cities alike.
For picking area in Brent Valley, please see picking area below or on map.
How to collect
Although it's hard to resist raiding each hedgerow try not to stack loads on top of each other or they'll bruise and squash before you get them home. Use a couple containers if you want to pick lots of berries though it's always good to leave plenty for other pickers too.
How to store
Try to keep them dry when storing and they should last for two to three days. If refrigerating let them come to room temperature before eating, as they'll taste much juicier that way. Don't worry if you've picked more than you can handle, blackberries are easily frozen and can be baked straight from the freezer with no need to defrost. Freeze on a tray in a single layer so they don't all squish together or puree them first then freeze the liquid in a bag or ice cube tray.
What to cook
Pies and crumbles are the obvious choice but blackberries also taste delicious served with savoury meats. Blackberry sauce tastes great with venison, or serve the berries whole with pigeon and other game birds. Add blackberry coulis to ice cream , pancakes and jelly or layer with meringue for a show-stopping pud. Finally, hit the bottle by mashing blackberries lightly with sugar, before sieving into a bottle then topping up with brandy, vodka or gin.