August bears sweet blackberries from the wild brambles that run up the steep sides of our driveway. The soil is quickly drained of nutrients here and generally rocky and poor - just the way wild blackberries like it. According to John Vivian in his article Foraging for Edibles Wild Plants: A Field Guide to Wild Berries, blackberries thrive in "disturbed ground" that is sunny, dry and at the margins of fields or roads.
Each spring, our plants bear a profusion of tiny white, bell-shaped flowers. These flowers give way to a combination of white and bright red berries that turn a deep purple hue around the first of August, when the weather is hot and dry. The fruits begin to ripen just after the last of the raspberries have been picked, right around the time we also start to harvest blueberries here in New England.
Wild blackberries, unlike their cultivated counterparts, tend to be smaller and seeder but they are equally sweet if picked at their peaked and great for baking. I like to pick our wild blackberries in the evening, just before sunset so I can collect all the berries that have ripened during the day before the bears or animals do. It also saves me a step in the morning when I'm in a rush to put breakfast on the table and want to grab a handful of berries to add to our oatmeal or granola.
While our bushes are thick and sprawling, they bear remarkably few berries for the amount of plants that exist. (This is one of the reasons I favor recipes like the wild blackberry studded scones below. They come together in a flash and require only a handful of sweet berries). Like most other fruit and berry plants, wild blackberries greatly benefit from some nurture. This year, we are going to take Lew Nichols' and E.A. Proulx's advise in their MOTHER EARTH NEWS article, Taming Wild Apples and Wild Berries, to encourage more productive plants and sweeter berries. At the end of our berry harvest in a couple of weeks, we plan to tag the smaller, brighter canes that grew this year and bore fruit late in the summer, leaving the taller canes that we harvested heavily early in the summer unmarked. These canes are unlikely to produce again next year (see the article here for more information on identifying the differences).
In the spring, before new growth emerges on the plants, we plan to thin out our patch by either digging up the unmarked canes or cutting them back to the ground. With some luck, we'll have enough blackberries to make jam next. In the meantime, we've enjoyed these blackberry scones twice this week—they are that good.
Wild Blackberry Scones
This recipe is adapted from Deb Perleman's Whole Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I imagine they would be lovely just as she makes them, but I swapped out the ricotta for sour cream because it was what I had on hand and used wild blackberries instead of the raspberries. The result was a hearty pastry with a delicate crumb - a perfect breakfast treat.
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 cup wild blackberries
3/4 cup (189 grams) sour cream
1/3 cup (79 ml) milk
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, sugar and salt.
Cut in butter with a pastry blender until the pieces are the size of peas. Toss in the blackberries and break them into chunks with the pastry blender.
Add the sour cream and milk, mixing with a spatula until the dough comes together. Using your hands, bring the dough together in a ball and turn it out into a floured surface. Pat the dough into a 1-inch high disk and divide it into six even wedges with a sharp knife. Transfer the scones to the baking sheet and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
Bake the scones for approximately 15 minutes until they are a golden color around the edges. Let cool for a minute and then transfer to a cooling rack until ready to eat.