Posted by: atowhee | August 16, 2015

TO EAT A BLACKBERRY

This is the season here in Oregon.  The feral Himalayan blackberries–hated by native plant purists, beloved by casual scrumpers, adored by berry eaters in fur or feather, respected by jam makers–are now at their peak.  In the past two weeks I have tasted, tested and taken mental note.

First, pick only those central berries from a cluster first. They ripen first. And then only if the berry comes easily away from the stem into your soft, appreciative touch.  Any tugging should be unnecessary unless you are just working for quantity to make lots of juice for jelly or wine.P2510417 (1280x960) P2510420 (1280x960) P2510424 (1280x960)Sometimes the berry will have a coating of light plant dust or soil dust, blow it off as rubbing is likely to burst the fruit if it is as ripe as you wish it to be.  Once in the mouth there are many ways to crush the berry.  I have found the most pleasurable to be slowly crush the berry against the roof of the mouth with pressure from your tongue.  Teeth should be irrelevant in proper berry enjoyment.

Pressured, the berry’s individual juice sacs will burst easily and let forth the sugary and tart fluid that makes berry picking worth the thorns, the heat, even sometimes the attendant insects. In the Midwest the berry patches are the harbinger of chigger bites to come, and days of itching and distress.  So far climate change has not brought that scourge to the West Coast and our drouth conditions seem to preclude the chigger ever getting a hold out here.

A ripe blackberry from a well-watered plant should be the size of an American dime [you can retrieve one at your local bank] or greater.  Upon tasting the berry should first treat you to a smooth liquid with no lumps, often a metallic sharpness followed by whatever the sweetness the fructose level reaches.  A slightly over-ripe berry, starting to shrivel in the heat, can be as sweet as any mass-produced candy.  So a little zing, then the sugar our genes crave so astutely.  Finally the whole flavor becomes a short bar of dense music like the rat sees in tasting cheese in “Ratatouille.”  Then you want another, and another.

On one half-mile walk recently along a row of blackberries next to a dried creek (the soil below still sufficiently wet) there were easily 100,000 berries or more. Plenty to share with bear, raccoon, sparrow, jay and Robin.

One note: apparently the blackberry did not become naturalized in the Pacific Northwest until around 1945.  In Oregon the state has categorized it as a noxious weed.  It does crowd out native plants along riparian corridors if left unchecked.  Our climate is nearly perfect for it.  Even in this drought year the drier areas of blackberry thicket show shriveled fruit and early loss of yellowed leaves but the main plants are sturdy and simply waiting for next winter’s rain to continue to grow and spread.

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Responses

  1. Excellent essay Harry!

  2. And whatever you do, don’t gather them in a plastic bag! As I remember from my first try in Mill Valley, they all got crushed, the bag had a leak and I had juice running down my leg… I am disappointed in the smallness of the berries here. I think not enough rain in the winter and too much sun drying them up before they get big.

    m a


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