Blackberries can be a bit of a challenge. The vines have thorns (unless you are lucky enough to find a thornless variety). But show up in long pants, long sleeved shirts and sneakers with socks and most of the problems will go away.
Be sure your kids eat some sun-warmed blackberries this summer. Depending on where you live there may even be some feral blackberries – but don't pick the ones on a main road; there is the cars rushing by problem, but even more so lots of traffic leaves behind blech on the berries and in the soil we don't really want to be eating.
So, how do you pick a good blackberry?
Ripe blackberries are not shiny, but have gone past to a dull purple-black color. Stay away from anything raspberry colored; they'll be super-pucker-crunchy-sour instead of oozy-melt-in-your-mouth-sweet.
Ready blackberries want to be picked. Just a light pull will drop the berry, core and all, into your hand. If you bend the twig and the berry stays put, it's not ready. Only pick ripe blackberries, they won't get any riper once picked.
Not too squishy. If they are already too soft to eat, leave them there.
Refrigerate or freeze if you have no plans for them before bedtime.
If you've consumed all the berries you possibly can, and there are still a few leftover, here are a few quick things to do.
1. Freeze ‘em. Blackberries only need a quick bath and drain. To keep them from squishing, freeze them in a single layer on a flat pan. When solid, seal in a zip-top bag.
2. Popsicles! Paper cups, popsicle sticks, vanilla yogurt, orange juice and blackberries. The kids can do this for themselves. For each cup of vanilla yogurt, stir in ½ cup orange juice, and as many blackberries as will fit. Spoon into the paper cups and pop in a stick. Place in the freezer until solid. Perfect for, "Mom, I'm hungry and it's too hot!" Peel off the paper cups and enjoy.
3. Cook down some blackberries to make them versatile and store better. (The fancy word for this is "compote.") Toss rinsed blackberries in a sauce pan. For each cup add 3 Tbs orange juice and 2 Tbs sugar. Cook over medium heat until the liquid is purple-y and thickened and makes you want to eat it up with a spoon. Freeze it in one cup amounts for later, or serve with something cakey or creamy right away.
4. Berry Skewers with Dipping Sauce. Check out my berry skewer recipe, a super simple treat that kids of all ages can help with.
5. Smoothies! Pop one cup blackberries (fresh or partly thawed), ½ cup yogurt and enough orange juice to make thing work into the blender for a spin. Fresh basil or mint or shiso makes a surprising, yummy addition if you have some lying around.
IF YOU GO
The blackberry harvest generally runs throughout August and part of September. Visit the Puget Sound Fresh website for a complete list of farms that sell blackberries.
Here is a list of farms that offer u-pick blackberries. Be sure and check with the farm the day you'd like to visit to make sure they have berries ripe and ready for picking:
Foxberry Farm, Tacoma, 253-926-8407
Schuh Farms, Mount Vernon, 360-424-6982
Broers Farms, Inc., Monroe, 425-248-9321
Growing Washington – Alm Hill Gardens, Whatcom, 360-927-4845
Helping parents, kids and new cooks navigate and enjoy fresh, local and sometimes unusual produce prodded Greta Hardin into writing Cooking Your Local Produce. She's a science teacher, enthusiastic cook and mother of a 10-year-old son. She couldn't find a cookbook to help people get started in the emerging landscape of local food, so she wrote this one. More information and recipes are available at www.gretahardin.com.