Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summertime and the berries are ripening on thorny brambles around the Bay Area! Blackberries are wild and seemingly unstoppable, their vines sprouting at the edge of walkways and trails, along sidewalks and in your backyards, if you let them. Try to trim them back and they will reemerge later in the summer or next year. But maybe let them go, let them grow. The rewards are great. The first round of berries, coming to fruition now, is chock-full of the plumpest, juiciest morsels. You have to know when they are ripe and ready to pluck or you'll be spitting out a sour, woody pulp--what a waste. Blackberries are ripest when the deep, black shine fades to a duller glow and when the berry falls willingly into your fingers. If you have to yank it off the branch, it isn't really ready. Patience!

With blackberries selling for obscene amounts of money in the region's markets--$4 for a half pint?--there is every reason to go berry hunting. Pick your own berries and eat them as you go. Or collect them by the quart, if you've found a particularly prolific plant, and turn them into some berry good dessert.

Find detailed information about blackberry varieties through UC Davis, which describes four wild varieties that are considered "pests." Ah, but the sweet, scrumptious berries. How could they be unwelcome? Well, it is their relentless march to take over every scrap of land that makes them so unwelcome, unfortunately. Their wonderful fruit is not enough to make up for their rapacious growth, and worse, their razor-sharp, iron-strong thorns will rip your unprotected skin leaving painful, red wounds. When I lived in upstate New York, I did battle with bramble and can't say who came out the winner. The vines are still there, no doubt, so I guess the berries can claim victory. As the UC Davis guide explains, the vines will overtake other plants, shrubs and even trees, using them to climb sky-high. They are about conquering, not peaceful co-existence.

However, as the aggie experts note, blackberry vines provide important habitat and food for wildlife. And for us, too, if we are adventurous and willing to risk some scratches for the flavorful prize.