Saturday, February 5, 2011

Black(berry) History and Recipes

One of my favorite fruits is the blackberry.  We planted a few bushes along our driveway last year, and they managed to do okay and even produce a few berries.  Mostly, our supply comes from the wild though.  We have a few different spots we hit each year, but our favorite and most plentiful one was mowed down by the county last year, a terrible disappointment for sure.  I'm hoping they leave it alone this year, so we can once again forage to our hearts' content.

I was enjoying a dish of blackberry cobbler this afternoon and decided to look up the history of blackberries and share a few recipes with you.   

Did you know the vine-like growths are called brambles, and blackberries are not berries, but aggregate fruits composed of a cluster of drupelets?

From History of Blackberries:

Blackberries were perceived by the ancient cultures as being a wild plant, and historical accounts for a backyard culture of blackberry bushes are few. The Greeks used the blackberry as a remedy for Gout, and the Romans made a tea from the leaves of the blackberry plant to treat various illnesses.

John Bartram, the early American explorer, botanist, and writer founded the first United States Botanical Garden, in 1728. In the early American colonies, William Bartram in his book, Travels, noted that General Oglethorpe was sent to the colony of Georgia in 1733 to investigate the possibility of establishing various temperate and subtropical plants which might "prove valuable for Georgia farms and orchards." William Bartram noted further in his book, Travels, that he his father, John Bartram, were sent to explore the Southern colonies that included East Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Alabama to take an inventory of plants growing there after the Spanish were expelled by the English. Bartram reported that just outside of Mobile, Alabama, it "grows here five or six feet high, rambling like Brier vines over the fences and shrubs."

Blackberry plants, Rubus spp., can not be truthfully separated accurately by taxonomists into species, because the original species that existed centuries ago have intercrossed themselves in the natural state so completely, and the natural selections have reached a critical composition and complexity, that cannot be adequately recreated through backcrosses. Blackberry vines and bushes grow in the native state on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
Thorns are present in native blackberry plants and the thorns prevent grazing wildlife, animals and birds from eating the vines before the berry bushes flower and later when blackberries are produced. When the blackberries grow and ripen, they are not only consumed by wildlife animals and birds, but they have been enjoyed by humans for centuries. Luther Burbank wrote in his book, Fruit Improvement, in 1921 that many hybrids had been developed by his efforts and others to grow thornless blackberry bushes and vines. These thornless creations were at first inferior in taste and quality to the thorny species.  Older thornless blackberry releases are: Apache, Hull, Thornfree, Black Satin, Arapaho, Navaho, Chester, and Boysenberry. All these blackberries have overcome the sticky problems of the original thornless blackberry hybrids.

Blackberries please the taste of humans as well as that of animals and are believed by many wildlife conservationists to be the most important naturalized growing plant that provides food for wildlife.  Wildlife animals and birds eat blackberries as food or receive a thorny protective cover from blackberry bushes or vines that wind along fences.
Blackberries fresh from the vines are useful in many foods; they are delicious in frozen packs, canned, as blackberry wine, ice cream, fresh blackberry juice, blackberry pies, blackberry jelly, blackberry jam, and best of all when eaten as a fresh fruit. Many health benefits come from eating blackberries that are rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins along with being a good source of the minerals potassium, phosphorus, iron, and calcium.

Blackberry Recipes:

Fruit Cobbler

Berry Vinegar

Blackberry Syrup

Freezer Berry Jam:  This recipe calls for raspberries, but you could substitute blackberries easily.

I don't have it on hand, but one of my favorite canning recipes is the triple berry jam provided in the Sure-Jell No Sugar Needed Pectin box.

Do you have a favorite blackberry recipe?

Happy homesteading,


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