Picking blackberries in the big city

About five minutes from our place a squad of bulldozers and front-end loaders flattened a whole city block alongside the commuter rail line, leaving a huge pile of bricks at one end and an ugly wasteland on the rest.

Not so unusual, except that there was nothing there in the first place except a vacant lot covered in thick patches of blackberry bush.  Every summer until this one we’d head over every two or three days or so dressed in old shoes and paint-stained jeans, heading home again with scratches on our arms and another load of what my mother used to call wild Himalayan blackberries.   I’ve been picking them since I was old enough to pick up a pail.

There was also a great spot we used to have close to where I work, but last year they ruined half of it by making a park out of one side and putting up a two-metre-high fence around the rest, making it nearly impossible to get to the berries except in the evenings or on weekends, because you now to go through a schoolyard to get to them.

Now that our best places to pick have been obliterated, we’ve been forced to look elsewhere.  It took a few spins on the bike, but I found a patch by a railway bridge and along a lane.

It’s not that Germans don’t know what blackberries are, because I do see people out picking from time to time, but this one patch, so full of berries, was left mostly untouched because it sits on a steep hill and most of the best were well out of reach.

So the other day I set to work getting to those rich, fat, black pieces of fruit that had been hanging there for days just waiting for someone like me to come along with a six-foot stepladder and a determination to make some blackberry pie.

I must have been quite a sight surfing atop the ladder along the upper brambles, because some Turkish kids came by and started throwing sticks at me.  When I turned around to glare at them they scampered away.

When I left the ladder unattended for a couple of minutes at the bottom of the patch a couple of kids from the kindergarten across the street scampered over to grab it for themselves, but a teacher gave them hell for pawing after stuff not their own.

Later on a Turkish lady dressed in that grey, bell-shaped garb you often see floating along the streets stopped and, in the best German she could muster, gave me pointers on where to find the best ones and cautioning that I really should take care not to fall off my perch lest I end up in the thorns.

I’m not used to picking berries in public at all, and avoid being on a stage of any kind if I can help it, but with so little choice left in the area, I’m going to have to get used to it if I want any more before the short season is over.

The results are the same in any case: fresh-baked pie that doesn’t last long.

15 Responses to “Picking blackberries in the big city”

  1. August 15, 2012 at 8:57 am

    It really is amazing that so few people know about such a lovely treat free for the taking. You seem to be remarkably unscathed and unspattered!🙂

    • August 15, 2012 at 10:22 am

      Jennifer, a colleague asked me after a meeting whether I’d fell on my bike and landed in a bush!

      @Adam – I saw that one. He BUYS blackberries! They don’t taste the same.

      @Marty: you bet.🙂

  2. August 15, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Any chance of some jam this year? We’re jonesing for it after that lot in February.

  3. August 15, 2012 at 9:41 am

    Two blackberry blogs (You and der Irische Berliner)and nothing but hunger to show for it – RIM would be disappointed.

  4. August 15, 2012 at 10:40 am

    *kof* unless you buy them straight off the bush.🙂 I couldn’t believe *I* had to tell *them* to put a few berry leaves in the basket to keep them longer. :p

  5. August 15, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    I’ve made blackberry cheesecake and blackberry bread pudding so far this year with the blackberries I’ve harvested – next up blackberry and apple crumble. Possibly tonight or tomorrow… and I’ve frozen a couple of tubs of blackberries for the winter too. Yum Yum!

  6. August 15, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Now my summer feels complete – Ian has his blackberries! Granted, it was a little more difficult to get your hands on them, but I’ve heard that extra effort sometimes puts a little extra sweetness in the harvest.

    Besides, we got a ladder, a Turkish woman, some Turkish kids and a completely admirable teacher to go along with the berries. What could be better? (Well, a slice of that pie wouldn’t hurt, but I suspect there’s none left anyway!)

  7. August 18, 2012 at 12:59 am

    Haha! I won’t be buying them anymore! Have to find meself a few good pickin’ spots…

  8. August 19, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Hi Ian,
    I’m born in the Ripe Berries Moon season and at the top of my favorite fruits list is Berries. Blackberries are my favorite of all the berries, though blueberries do run a close second. I have gone through many trials and tribulations to pick blackberries and have used all kids of hooks on poles to grab the high branches and pull them down so I can get the berries. I have never had anyone throw anything at me but I have run into 3 bears. Luckily, in each case they were upwind and I smelled them and got out of Dodge very quickly. Have you made blackberry tea from the leaves? Boil a handful of dried blackberry leaves in 1 quart of water until about half of the water has boiled off.

    • August 19, 2012 at 8:26 pm

      Bears! I’m glad not to have to worry about them around here.🙂
      Funny you should mention blueberries. For the first time ever I picked blueberries here over this past summer – quite by accident – and have some jars of jam in the basement now.

      So do you really have to boil away half the water to make blackberry tea? That sounds like a lot. What does it taste like?

  9. August 28, 2012 at 1:58 am

    Heureux de te lire de nouveau, Ian! Si cela ne te dérange pas, je t’écrirai de temps en temps via ce blog…. Pour ce qui est de la disparition du champ de mûres, dans ton quartier, c’est vraiment dommage… mais c’est presque partout la même chose dans les grandes villes… de plus en plus de monde, et de moins en moins d’espace… pour respirer, vivre…

  10. September 9, 2012 at 2:02 am

    Another simple dessert suggestion for blackberries: Blackberry focaccia. Just take foccacia dough or simple pizza dough and stud it with fresh whole blackberries. I put honey, grated ginger root, etc. It’s luscious straight from the oven: http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/kicking-up-schiacciata-con-l%e2%80%99uva-grape-focaccia-my-way-with-ginger-root-and-spices/

    That is one serious boatload of blackberries. Have the Germans made a blackberry wine like some B.C. wineries? It’s my favourite apertif.🙂

    • September 10, 2012 at 5:12 pm

      Thanks, Jean. That bread looks great.🙂
      Seems there’s no end to what you can do with them, which is a good thing because as you can see, I usually get carried away and pick as much as the bucket will allow as long as there still there to get.

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