FOLKLORE warns never to pick them after Michaelmas, on September 29, because the devil will spit on them, they were used as a hair dye in the 1600s while during the 18th century they were so popular at curing the ‘disease of kings’ they were branded ‘gout berries’. Blackberries certainly have a history as bountiful as their versatility.

September is bumper blackberry picking time but there’s a lot more to these vitamin-rich fruits that grace our hedgerows than whisking up a basic baked blackberry and apple pie. Blackberry jam, blackberry fool, blackberry cordial and blackberry smoothies are all tempting treats that can be created with your hand-picked harvest, but what about making some blackberry vinegar – and even better using the blackberry juice as a fabric dye?

Anne Wheaton of Slamseys Farm near Great Notley, Braintree, will show you exactly how to do both of these- and more. Anne is such a blackberry buff, she is hosting a Blackberry Day later this month at her family’s beautiful commercial arable farm near Great Notley, to teach people how to really squeeze every last drop out of the beloved berries.

“As September is the season for wild blackberries we will be hosting our first ever Blackberry Day at Slamseys so people can learn more about using these hedgerow gems,” said Anne.

“We will be taking people out on the farm to pick blackberries and then return to our Barley Barn to use the berries and foliage for dyeing, cooking and printing.

“One of the recipes we will be making is a lovely blackberry vinegar which can be used for cooking and in sauces. We’ll also teach the group how to use the juice as a dye. Blackberries don’t make the best dye to be honest but it’s simple to make and comes out a lovely deep purple colour. The leaves and stalks also come out a nice beige colour. I think there’s a real revival at the moment for people to want natural dyes so we expect these part of the course to be popular.

“We’ll be taking participants through every step of how to make the most out of the fruits.”

As well as operating as a farm, Slamseys specialises in printmaking workshops and seasonal classes on a range of subjects including from photography to garden design. Along with their fruity vinegar, those taking part in the blackberry-themed class on September 24 will go home with a skein of naturally dyed wool, bundle dyed fabric squares and a small handmade book with hand printed pages.

“This workshop is for anyone with an interest in using natural resources, natural dyeing and printmaking. No experience is necessary to take part in this workshop as we will cover all the techniques required,” added Anne.

So what is so great about blackberries? “I think the fact they are absolutely everywhere at the moment, you will find them everywhere from the garden to rural hedgerows to public car parks,” said Anne.

“I can’t think of any other fruits that we have growing in such abundance in this country.

“I’ve been picking blackberries since I was a child and have fond memories of going out as a family and picking them, as do many people.

“But we want to show people you can do a lot more with them than just making the traditional blackberry pie- not that there’s anything wrong with they as they can be very tasty!”

Anne also says crab apples can also be foraged at the moment as can nuts and rosehips.

“If you know what to look for you can find a lot of seasonal fruits and nuts ready to be picked,” she added.

Mum-of-two Kerry Nevard of Fairfax Drive, Westcliff, did a spot of foraging in her garden last week and came away with enough blackberries to bake multiple pies.

“I’ve got a blackberry bush and so has my neighbour and hers hangs over my garden so I went out and gathered loads of blackberries up. Then I got some plums, apples and sultantas and then baked three apple and blackberry pies.

“They were lovely – and so much cheaper than if I’d bought the blackberries, I’m going to try making a blackberry cordial next."

Kerry, 41, was even more impressed by a fruitful treat she encountered on her friend’s nearby allotment.

“My friend has a mulberry bush on his allotment and I tasted some for the first time ever- I thought they were absolutely amazing. I’m ashamed to say it but until then I didn’t think mulberry bushes were real, I thought they were just a made up thing for a nursery rhyme!”

Blackberries picked at Slamseys Farm throughout June to September are made into a tasty fruit gin.

“All the blackberries used in our Blackberry Gin are wild which gives it a depth of flavour. As the blackberries steep in the gin, the deep purple juices from the blackberries give this gin an unmistakable taste of autumn with a hint of spice,” said Anne.

Anne says the farm’s 23 per cent volume blackberry gin is perfect with tonic water and a slice of cheese and a Cox apple.

Fruit gins are another speciality of Slamseys. Other flavours made and sold on the farm include blackcurrant, elderflower, rose, marmalade and plum. The process is an intricate one - the fields and hedgerows of the farm are searched to pick the finest berries and flowers to bring back and slowly infuse to be made into exquisite fruit gin liqueurs.

Anne certainly uses nature's finest to compliment her recipes – even combining stinging nettles with bread.

She said: “We make stinging nettle bread at one of our workshops. Kids absolutely love it as they seem to think there’s something quite dangerous about it!”

So if you feel ready to get foraging or plant to master batology (the study of blackberries) where do you begin? For starters you need to know when they are ripe for the picking. Blackberries ripen in the stages from green to red to black.

Experts say the berries should come off the plant as you grasp them.

They should be plump and shiny, so if they fall apart in your hand, they’re probably over-ripe.

Also, don’t confuse the blackberry with the black raspberry, which looks almost identical. The easiest way to tell the difference is by the core. Blackberries will always have a white core, with part of the stem still attached, whereas black raspberries are hollow in the center as the stem is left behind when picked.


  •  For more information about the blackberry day at the farm visit