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Purple fingers

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 10:44 UK time, Wednesday, 8 September 2010

September is a great time for foraging free food from nature's larder and right now we're well into the blackberry season.

Be warned though - many berries are poisonous; birds can eat them but they'll make us extremely ill if we eat the wrong ones, so only pick berries you know are safe to eat.

You can't go too far wrong with a blackberry though. They're easy to identify, taste great, are nutritional and free. Why pay for them in supermarkets when you can pick as many of the organic variety as you like for free?

Ripe blackberries waiting to be picked:
blackberries

They can be turned into a whole range of delicious treats - from crumbles to jams or even brandy or you can eat them as nature intended - straight from the brambles along with the odd fruit worm.

Do a quick taste test before picking as they may appear dark and ripe but not taste particularly sweet, so may need a few more days to ripen.

If you're making jams then it doesn't really matter, as you'll be adding sugar to the recipe anyway.

Top tips: Avoid picking berries which are growing near busy roads or growing lower down where dogs mark their scent....you get the idea. Plants growing near heavy industry aren't good either!

I was down at Margam recently and noticed hundreds of ripe, virginal berries oozing from the hedgerows and then realised why no-one had picked them...the steel works was opposite but it's not just air pollution that should put you off.

Superstition states that you shouldn't pick blackberries after late September/ early October as the Devil urinates on them. You'd think he'd have more important business to be taking care of but I guess we all have our vices?

So, you'll have to weigh up for yourselves which is worse - the Devil's urine or that of someone's pet pooch?

And, it therefore goes without saying that you should always wash your blackberries in cold water before eating or freezing.

Blackberrying is also a great way of re-using your old plastic bags so don't throw them away - not that you would do, in this day and age anyway.

It's also a nice way to get a squabbling family together for a weekend walk - you can even have a competition to see who can pick the most.

Stained fingers and clothes are the only downside of this ancient bushcraft but purple fingers should always be worn as a badge of honour.

The stains will fade after a day or two anyway but you could always wear gloves if you're a hand model or a particularly popular politician.

Did you know....the juice from blackberries was once used as a dye for clothes and hair. So, it gives you an indication of just how tough those stains can be to remove - so don't ever go blackberrying in white.

Wearing old clothes and long sleeves is a good idea though, as brambles can be pretty sharp and tear skin and clothes easily.

When ripe, the berries will be a deep purple, almost black colour and soft but firm to touch. If they collapse in your hand then they're past their best so leave them for the birds or use in jam.

Try to visit different locations too. That way, you'll give berries which were red during your first visit, time to ripen in time for your second visit; meanwhile you've been elsewhere, harvesting from a different spot so it's a win, win situation.

I've got a bumper crop of pears on my tree this year which are almost ripe so I'll try and do some blackberry & pear combinations this autumn. I'm also thinking 'chutney'.

If any of you have good recipe suggestions or advice about picking other edible berries then please leave your comments below.

Gull

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