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Blackberry Picking in Western Washington

When I was five-years-old, my family lived along the Columbia River in WA. About a block from our house was a tree line. Like most tree lines in the Pacific Northwest, it had a hedge of wild blackberries.

Mom and I would go out to the berry patch with our metal buckets in hand and prepare to indulge in the tangy, sweet fruit. Berry picking was serious business for her, so she brought along a special berry picking aid, a piece of plywood. She would lean the plywood against the bramble and push it down carefully so that petite little Cari (me) could climb up a makeshift ramp, sit my butt down, and surround myself with all of the best berries. I'll be honest; more berries ended up in my stomach than did the bucket, but mom never seemed to care. For the two of us, it was wonderful.

That is one of the most vivid and treasured memories from my early childhood. So it is fitting that I am now going on berry hunts with my little ones. It'ss surreal now being in the role of mom and seeing my kids get excited about finding a branch covered in ripe fruit, or smile when they proudly show you that their bucket is full and they picked more than me. It doesn't seem to register to them that I have a gallon size pail and their small bowl holds a pint. But ultimately, the real joy is that they love this tradition as much as I do, which is good because picking wild blackberries in Western Washington is not for the faint of heart.

Most of the process is downright miserable. It's usually hot, the vines are covered in long, painful thorns, mosquitos abound along with bees, and you have to be aware of other kinds of dangerous plants like stinging nettle. But it's worth it! I promise. Most of those problems can be avoided by being prepared.

You can't do much about the heat. It's summer. So know your limits and if you plan to do one massive harvest, go early in the day and stay hydrated. Since it'll probably be hot, you might be tempted to wear summer attire. I advise against it. Wearing jeans will protect your legs from the thorns, nettle and diminish the mosquito bites, a long sleeve shirt will allow you to more easily reach around branches to get to the hidden berries without copious scrapes on your forearms, and closed toed shoes will go a long way to save your feet from the thorny vines touching the ground.

You can use just about anything to hold your berries, but my favorite berry bucket is the colander from my salad spinner. It holds a gallon of berries, is lightweight, and makes prepping the fruit for preservation incredibly easy. I just put the colander inside the salad spinner bowl and wash them in that.

In my house, it's either you eat the berries that day, or they are frozen and packed in gallon ziplock bags. My kids' favorite breakfast is oatmeal with berries and yogurt. Having frozen fruit on hand is amazing because they don't like their oatmeal hot. By the time the oats are cool, the berries have melted, and breakfast is served.

The process of freezing blackberries can be a bit tricky. Resist the urge to put fresh fruit into the bags. This method will result in a berry block that you'll have to chisel to break apart. It's frustrating. Instead, spread the berries out in a single layer on a pan and freeze them until they're firm, and then put them in bags. It works like a charm. I use my food dehydrator trays to pre-freeze my berries. I like that the trays are slotted, so it increases air circulation. Any juice that does drip down, lands on the unit's base, and they stack neatly in my chest freezer.

So there you have it, berry picking Fukura style. Here's to hoping I can get out to pick enough berries to last us until next July's harvest. Wish me luck!