Japan photos must wait, because we are awash—no, drowning—in fruit. All manner of stone fruit, strawberries, melons, lychees… & now the backyard contributes blackberries! I grew up picking blackberries every summer & have accumulated quite the Blackberry Knowledge, which I shall now share with you. Yes, there are actually some tricks.
Respect the thorns, & know yourself. You have to get into a careful & graceful state of mind to pick blackberries. No sudden moves, no jerking around, no careless shoving branches aside in order to reach your berries. If you would rather not be patient & slow & exacting, then by all means wear thick, tough clothes (like heavy denim) that cover as much skin as possible, & boots on your feet. On the other hand, it’s possible to pick blackberries in nothing more than a flimsy sundress & flipflops, as I did today. It has to do with personality, mood, & experience. In any case, however, you should not wear gloves; more about that in a minute.
Get down low & look up to spot the berries. Try it; you’ll be amazed at how many berries are hiding underneath all those leaves!
Most common blackberry-picking mistake: picking them too soon. A sure way to end up with a lot of mouth-puckering, super-sour berries! No! Arg! Second most common mistake: picking old berries. Here are the clues:
You want berries that are 100% black, no red anywhere, not even dark reddish purple.
Look at the texture of the berry. Perfectly ripe blackberries almost literally glow; they are glossy & shiny, & each individual globule of the berry is fat & round because they are all full of juicy goodness. Past their peak, those same berries will be dull, flat black, &/or the little globules will start to shrivel & wrinkle. (Often at that point they will have invisible but horrible-tasting mold, too.) The color & shine of ripe blackberries is what calls me from all the way across the yard & inside the kitchen: “come pick us right now!”
Helpful illustration: the red part circled on the left indicates a berry picked too soon. The shriveling part on the right indicates a berry past its prime.
Now here is the most important part, & why you can’t wear gloves to pick blackberries: you need the sensitivity of your fingertips to feel the amount of resistance when you try to pull the berry from the stem. It should just about fall into your hand at a touch. I usually nudge the berry to one side to see if it will come off, rather than pulling straight away from the stem. If you have to put any effort into pulling—& I do mean any—then the berry is not ripe enough. Think of picking a small object up off a table, not detaching two attached objects; a blackberry should feel like you’re just moving it from where it sits on the stem.
Also, a ripe berry is not hard; with practice you can tell by touch whether it is the right degree of tenderness. With this delicate touch you will also avoid bruising the berries—useful if you’re doing anything with them besides popping them directly in your mouth.
All this fine-tuned awareness, dancing between thorns with your fingers, & the willingness to let go of each berry if it won’t yield immediately to your touch, is what makes blackberry picking a very meditative experience. There are other methods, but I find this the most satisfying.
Here is what you want your bowl of blackberries to look like: midnight with stars. Every little nodule should be plump & glossy, each berry tender, the whole bowl fragrant with blackberry perfume—the essence of summer.
(In case you’re curious, that’s a stone fruit clafoutis in the picture at the top. No blackberries in it.)