Blackberry Picking

Blackberry Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

Seamus Heaney

Blackberry picking heralds the end of summer for me. Driving through the countryside I see fields of wheat stubble and hedgerows heavy with berries, autumn is around the corner and I can hardly wait.

 As for blackberrying, I've had a much easier time of it than Seamus. No trekking round soggy hayfields and cornfields for me, just an amble up my garden with a bowl in hand. No scratches, my blackberry is thornless. Its berries are large and juicy and they are not going to be left in a byre to rot because I have a freezer. Sensible me.

But what to do with them? When Milly Molly Mandy brings home a handful of blackberries she gives one to her father;

'Ah! that makes me think the time for blackberry puddings has come!
Then she gave one to Mother, and asked her what it made her think of. And Mother said, 'A whole row of pots of blackberry jam that I ought to have in my storecupboard!'.
Then she gave one to Grandpa and Grandpa said it made him think of 'Blackberry tart!'
And Grandma said, 'Blackberry jelly!'
And Uncle said, 'Stewed blackberry-and-apple!'
And Aunty said, 'A plate of fresh blackberries with sugar and cream!'

I'm with Mother, my jam stores are very low. The blackcurrant jam I made last month has all gone. I shall freeze what I pick for the next couple of weeks until there are enough to jam. I hope to have some left over though, for puddings and pies as well.

This illustration is from the wonderful Food In England by Dorothy Hartley, which might just be my most favourite book ever. Her lovely informative illustration shows when the berries ripen and the best way to use them. My bowlful should be eaten raw according to Dorothy, maybe we will.



  1. I will be picking also as our wild (thorns, ouch!) blackberries are starting to rippen. I think I will put them in my freezer too and wait for the book on preserving you suggested, I ordered it and it is on the way. I can't wait to be a rebel and make the jam without the boiling water bath. Thanks for the info.

  2. So you haven't been lost under a humungous pile of dirty pants - you've been blackberrying!!!!

    I love blackberries, they look great and they taste delicious.

    I'll be freezing whatever we pick, so I can use them in fruit pies and also stewed with some apple an eaten with lashings of sweet, sweet custard.mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

  3. Mmmm yum. What a gorgeously sweet post. x

  4. Anonymous7:32 pm BST

    I adored the Milly Molly Mandy stories as a child and so did my daughter (now 22)! We still have the books. Thanks for the lovely little reminder.
    Delicious looking berries, I'm sure whatever they become it will be yummy. :)
    Vivienne x

  5. Blackberry beauties! Sumptuous post Sue. Beautiful!

  6. OOoh yum! Blackberries are my favorite, and I'd have anything suggested by Milly Molly Mandy's entire family. My 3 year old son loves the Milly Molly Mandy stories, so I'm really enjoying reading them all again.

  7. Oh I'm so jealous! I've never seen a blackberry growing, rarely tasted one except frozen. When I visit the UK I always have blackberry crumble -it's a bit of a symbol of England to me.
    I just want to come over there when I read all about your seasons that are so different to ours.

  8. You lucky thing to have a thornless blackberry. Those berries look delicious. We are growing some raspberries as an experiment and had quite a bit of fruit last season. I enjoyed your book inclusions in your post.
    Have a great day.


  9. Sue, I love all your beautiful photos that you post here, along with your stories. I can't wait to have my own home again so that I can grow my vegies, fruits and berries again, and have chooks again too. I used to have a lovely property with all the above and do miss it so. Something to look forward to.
    Hugs Sandi xx

  10. I'm with you the thornless bramble is much bigger and worthwhile. Brambling is also something that even preteen boys seem interested in so plenty of slave labour there, I mean willing help!! We are renowned for the fruit pud so I shall be making bramble and apple crumble/sponge. Mmmmmmm hungry

  11. I loved Milly Molly Mandy when I was a wee thing! I remember that story particularly well. Aaah feeling nostalgic now.

  12. Anonymous1:46 pm BST

    This is a lovely post, blackberries are my favourite type of berry. Thoroughly recommend the blackberry and apple cake by Nigel Slater if you have any left after making jam!


    Lizzy x

  13. Delicious! We've got a good patch on the allotment which I picked on Sunday - thornless though! I never know there was such a thing. Mine have gone straight into a freezer ready for crumbles when my parents' apple tree is ready to bear it's fruit.

    Definitely summer's end isn't it? Only two and a bit weeks of the holidays left too - how fast has that gone!

    (Thanks for your lovely comment on my new banner btw - bit blurry but okish. Glad you like it!)

  14. I don't know how I missed this post - only just found it. Fab poem - I so love Seamus Heaney.

  15. I love this book, it is wonderful, everything about food is covered in here :) xxx


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