“Life was simpler when apples and blackberries were only fruit.”
Though these fruits have become technological marvels, I still prefer the delicious originals. Leave your devices behind and go get your hands dirty. Though local apples aren’t ready yet, blackberries are ripening on the vine and await your picking. In my book, purple fingers are always preferable to twittering thumbs.
I am awaiting my first harvest of blackberries. Planted a few years ago, my efforts (and berries) are coming to fruition. The old expression, blackberries are red when they are green, describes their condition. Their genus name, Rubus, comes from the Latin word “ruber,” meaning “red.”
The berries are actually not even technically berries. Botanically speaking, they are aggregate fruit composed of small drupelets. These fruits start off green, then are red and will finally ripen to a rich purple color. Mine are a ravishing red, but hopefully not for long.
Keeping a close eye on these delicacies is a priority, since I am competing with a crowd of critters. More than 100 animals, mostly birds and mammals, feast on these delicious drupelets.
Through they will fruit through the summer, don’t wait too long to pick them. Legend has it that the devil will not be on your side if you do, and who wants to spar with Satan? The story told suggests that the devil was kicked out of heaven in the early fall and landed hard on a blackberry bush. The prickles caused him such dismay that he spit (some say urinated) on these berries in disgust. Perhaps the real reason not to pick them that late concerns different blight or diseases that the berries can get.
Eating blackberries at the right time is good for you! They are high in antioxidants and may even help lower cholesterol and ward off cardiovascular disease. In times past, they had other healthful uses and could be a boon to your buns and a tincture for your teeth. Ancient healer Josh Gerard claimed “They heale the eyes that hang out, and hard knots in the fundament [buttocks]. The leaves boiled in water with honey, alum, and a little white wine added, fastneth the teeth.”
English folk medicine suggests blackberries as a remedy for burns. However, this treatment is most effective when used with this spoken charm: “There came three angels out of the east, One brought Fire, two brought frost. Out fire and in frost, In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
Blackberries are related to raspberries. Since raspberries can be black, sometimes the two can be confused. Here are two ways to differentiate these two fruits: blackberries have stems (or canes) that are ringed, while raspberries’ are rounded. And, when picked, raspberries are hollow because the torus (core) is left on the plant, while the blackberry’s torus sticks with the berry and is eaten as part of the fruit. Now that you know, you might consider yourself a batologist, one who studies blackberries and other brambles.
Even with that expertise, collecting blackberries is not always easy and carefree. English illustrator Cicely Mary Barker saw the challenges and the rewards when she wrote the Song of the Blackberry Queen:
My berries cluster black and thick.
For rich and poor alike to pick.
I’ll tear your dress, and cling, and tease,
And scratch your hand and arms and knees.
I’ll stain your fingers and your face,
And then I’ll laugh at your disgrace.
But when the bramble-jelly’s made,
You’ll find your trouble well repaid.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.