What to do with blackberries you've picked

What to Do With Blackberries

Blackberry Picking Spot

The past couple years have been terrible for blackberry picking here. The drought hit California hard and the berries suffered badly. In the patch I love, they fried before they were even close to ripe. (You know, I almost called these our “native blackberries,” but they’re definitely not. What we get around here are mostly invasive Himalayan Blackberries, which I have happily picked since I was a kid. Native California blackberries do exist, however. They’re called the Pacific Blackberry, or Rubus ursinus, and I’m not sure I’ve ever even seen one. I need to do something about that.)

We’re still in a serious drought, but we had enough rain this year that the blackberries are back — and early, too! I went out to the patch yesterday evening, just to see how they were coming along, and I picked five pounds of fat berries in a little over an hour.

Blackberry Picking

I’ve gotten into the habit of freezing almost all the blackberries I pick, which buys me time to decide what to do with them. With this first trip to the patch, I was so much on autopilot that I popped every berry into the freezer and forgot to keep any fresh for the fridge or for friends. That was dumb and I won’t do it when I go back out there later this week.

Here are some ideas for what to do with blackberries if you, too, are the recipient of what promises to be this summer’s great bounty. The list focuses on preserving blackberries, because that’s what I do — but down there at the end is one fun resource for bakers and cooks.

Things to Do With All Those Blackberries You Picked

1. Eat them warm from the bushes. It doesn’t get much better in the world of fruit.

2. Share them fresh. Store bought blackberries are expensive and they usually don’t taste like much. Many people don’t have the time, patience, or mobility to go out and pick their own. A gift of luscious, handpicked berries could make a person’s day.

3. Freeze them. To freeze blackberries, I turn them out onto cookie sheets, pick out any debris, then flash freeze them for a few hours. (I don’t usually wash them first, but see this discussion on the H2H Facebook page for a cautionary tale.) After that, I weigh them out into bags of one or two pounds each, making sure to label each bag with the weight, the year, and anything else I want to remember, like where I picked them if it was somewhere unusual. Later on, your frozen berries will make great jam, or you can bake with them or put them in smoothies or whatever you like. For freezing, I use a Food Saver because it does a perfect job of pulling out all the air and sealing the bags tight. Before that, I used regular freezer bags and sucked the excess air out with my mouth (you can also use a straw for that) before sealing them.

Blackberry Chambord Jam || Hitchhiking to Heaven

4. Make blackberry jam. Of course. Here are the blackberry jam recipes on this blog:

Blackberry Strawberry Jam. This is my favorite of all blackberry jam recipes. It’s why I probably won’t ever post a new blackberry jam recipe here: I’ve already got what I want.

Blackberry Chambord Jam. Fancy! But you can leave out the Chambord to make a classic blackberry jam without pectin.

Blackberry Lime Jam with Pomona’s Pectin. Blackberries are great with lime, and this recipe lets you keep the sugar low.

Blackberry Plum Jam with Seville Orange Juice. This is the jam recipe I used as an example in my post on how to make jam from frozen fruit. It’s a good one, too.

Blackberry Mojito Jam. This one was just plain fun. If you check it out, you’ll see that the post about it was written by a porcupine.

And here’s a recipe from Marisa at Food in Jars that I’ll be making later this summer with rhubarb that’s already tucked away in the freezer. It looks too good to pass up . . .

Low-Sugar Blackberry Rhubarb Jam

5. Make blackberry juice. If you have a lot of berries, juice is an indulgence. I once made a nice Blackberry Rhubarb Juice using honey instead of sugar. You’ll find that recipe here on the blog and also in a large collection of blackberry juice recipes from Juicer’s Best on Pinterest. You might find something else on that list to try. I love my Mehu-Liisa Steam Juicer for juicing. (I bought mine used on eBay — a fine investment.)

Wild Blackberries

6. Make blackberry syrup. It’s great to have in the fridge for summer drinks. Here’s an easy recipe from The Kitchn.

7. Make blackberry shrub. A shrub is basically a fruit syrup that includes vinegar. As the website for Shrub & Co. explains, “Vinegar works much like citrus in your drinks — it quenches thirst, cleanses the palate and is very refreshing.” Here’s a simple blackberry shrub recipe from Brooklyn Supper, including instructions for a tempting blackberry shrub collins with mint.

8. Make blackberry liqueur. I’ve made blackberry liqueur so many times that I’m surprised I’ve never posted a recipe here. It’s another simple project for blackberries. I like the look of this method on Serious Eats. Or, if you’re up for an experiment, you could try blackberry wine.

9. Make blackberry condiments. BBQ sauce, ketchup, vinegar. These all sound intriguing to me, though ketchup seems “interesting” in the weird sense of the word. You can suss out lots of recipes by searching Punk Domestics or Pinterest.

10. Make blackberry fruit leather. Again, this is such an easy thing to do. You can use a dehydrator or just your oven on a low setting. (I think I’ll do blackberry-plum leather this summer. So many plums!) Here are some notes I made on making fruit leathers — and you can find many recipes out there.

11. Bake something, or . . . ? I rarely bake, so I won’t stumble into specifics here, but for goodness’ sake, check out this list of 30 of the Most Delicious Things You Can Do With Blackberries on the Country Living website. There are lots of great baking ideas and much more than that: milkshakes, popsicles, salads, sandwiches — you name it and you can probably find a good way to put blackberries in it. You may also want to knock yourself out with the images of all the blackberry ice cream recipes on Pinterest.

That’s about it, except for this reminder that there’s more than one reason to wear tall, heavy leather boots in the blackberry patch. They’re good for controlling the canes and minimizing scratches and snags, but check out the length of this snake skin I found out there last night (toe of my boot included for scale). It may well have belonged to a gopher snake, but a rattlesnake would be just as much at home in the area. I always approach with caution and watch where I step!

Snake Skin

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  • Reply Sean Timberlake July 6, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    Oh my. I remember, a lifetime ago when I was still doing theater, I had to go up to way northern California to research a show (it involved a story about the local Indian population). One of the tribe members took me down a path to the beachhead where a major part of the play took place. Along the way brambles arched overhead, with big, fat blackberries dangling all around us. Pure magic.

    • Reply Shae July 6, 2016 at 5:54 pm

      I would love to see that. Rubus ursinus, I wonder?

  • Reply Molly July 8, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Hi Shae. I just made a batch of your Blackberry Mojito. Unfortunately, I had to make some alterations due to dietary restrictions, but it turned out pretty darn well in spite of no pectin & using honey instead of sugar. Your testing for readiness method is THE BEST!!! I love those little frozen spoons waiting in the freezer. They seem as impatient as I am for the jam to be ready.

    • Reply Shae July 8, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      Oh, I’m glad to hear you got creative with it and that it still went pretty well. I’d be curious to know how you figured the honey for sugar replacement. I usually use quite a bit less honey, because it is (or tastes) sweeter than sugar. I just assume I’m going to have a soft set and try not to overcook everything.

  • Reply Sheri Cline - Zone 8b- San Juan Islands,Washington State March 10, 2017 at 6:50 am

    Hello, My reading of this blog is a bit late but I would like to share some information with you. I moved from Northern California 35 years ago and I reside in the Pacific Northwest. I discovered the (Pacific Blackberry) Trailing Blackberry Rubus ursinus also known as “Dewberry” shortly after arriving. I also read an article in the classified of someone who would pay me 35 dollars per gallon for picking them.
    They are a very small berry, about the size of a woman’s pinky-finger nail but they are loaded with a rich blackberry flavor that I have never tasted in the Himalayan blackberry. I have never picked a gallon of these in my 35 years of living here, I’m lucky to find a patch and pick a cup full. They grow on a beautiful stickery blue stem and keep very close to the ground and can be found using bushes to rise vertically, it’s usually in this area that you will find better berries for picking. I would never give any of my yard over to their growth unless I could get them to climb a wire fence. Walking through properties and overgrowth in yards, it’s this trailing vine that will most likely trip you, been there done that many times. Like many natives here they are difficult to transplant, it’s preferable to do this in late fall or early spring before new growth starts. The berry ripens in August. There is also another blackberry that grows here and it’s the “Evergreen Blackberry” Rubus laciniatus. Because my homegrown blackberry production is so massive and one can only make so much jelly and syrup I now put-up blackberry juice for year round juice consumption.

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