Monday, 2 September 2013

Grimshaws' guide to picking blackberries

Blackberries today in the Yorkshire Arboretum
 My parents, Susan and Peter Grimshaw, have jointly produced this piece about picking blackberries, which is worthy of a wider audience:

"There is a veritable glut of Blackberries this year, they are hanging like bunches of grapes on the bushes.

As we have been picking blackberries together for 49 years now, we have written a Guide as to how to go about it.


1]   Before you set out dress up like a TRAMP.  Brambles not only stain your clothes, they also Rrrrrrrrrrip them.   Do not forget a hat, brambles also tear at your hair.

2]   Take several small containers with lids with you, rather than one large one.  If a stray length of bramble surreptitiously trips you up it is less frustrating to spill a small amount of fruit than a big tub-full.

3]   Remember that the best berries are all either just out of reach or deep in a bed of nettles, therefore take a walking stick and a supply of dock leaves with you.

4]   Find some bushes in a pleasant rural place.  Do not pick from bushes overhanging busy roads.   You do not want to be eating chemicals from car exhausts.

5]  Pick carefully.....the berries should be:
  a]   black
   b]   glossy, not dull looking
   c]   swollen, not hard
To pick, hold berry gently and give a light tug.  If the berry does not come away with a light tug, it is not ripe.  If the berry comes away without a tug or if it squishes in your fingers it is over-ripe and should be discarded.

6]   Do not pick at a level below which a dog might have cocked his leg.

7]    Enjoy the wildlife around you, blackberry bushes are full of interest, Gatekeeper Butterflies for example seem to love brambles.

8]  Let your imagination run riot, pretend you are a primitive Hunter-Gatherer finding delicious seasonal food for your family.    Realise that you have in fact temporarily become a Hunter-Gatherer and actually are finding a supply of delicious, healthy, FREE food.

Having taken your berries home weigh them to see how well you have done.
Before using them wash thoroughly unless you want a bit of body in your jam or pie.   Blackberries usually harbour a range of small caterpillars, spiders, chafers etc.

You will almost certainly soon discover that a lot of little prickles have embedded themselves in your anatomy, most particularly in your fingers.  These can be quite painful.   Nine out of ten of them will disappear somehow of their own accord.  For the others poke about in your flesh with a sharp needle, (preferably sterilised in the flame of a match) until the thorn comes out.  Otherwise apply Germolene and cover with a plaster.   [In the Grimshaw family Germolene is alleged to cure everything.]

You can use your berries to make blackberry jelly or pies, muffins etc.  

You will enjoy them all the more knowing the fruit did not cost you a penny.

One last word of warning, NEVER pick any after 1st October because the devil will have had them after that date!"

Leonardo's drawing of a spray of blackberries (in the Royal Collection): still one of the most charming and realistic of plant portraits.


  1. Thanks for the useful and amusing guide to blackberry picking.

  2. I have great memories of picking berries, as a child and with my children. This year's crop is bigger and better than usual. Ditto for apple trees. Clearly we had the perfect spring.

  3. What a lovely and refreshing post and a lovely diversion from your normal style.

  4. Outstanding post!! Thank you for the brilliant share!

  5. Thanks to your parents Great story and now I will go and look at my Ontario blackberries and keep the advice handy

  6. when I was wee I was told don't eat them in October because the devil has spat on them

    N Ireland

  7. Very recognizable :-). Enjoyed the funny AND useful list with recommendations.

    Arboretum Wespelaar


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