Some of the best memories of my childhood are of picking blackberries from a wild patch near a neighbor's yard in Tenafly, New Jersey--a patch now long gone. A bramble and a member of the rose family, blackberries will grow like weeds in the right climate, and in more rural areas they can still sometimes be seen growing bay the side of the road. What we get on the market are cultivated varieties. Although they're grown in almost every state, the biggest crops come from the Pacific Northwest, Michigan, and New Jersey. The greater part of the crop is sold to processors for jams and jellies, but you'll find fresh blackberries at roadside stands, farm markets, and good produce stores during the summer, usually in half-pint boxes.
Blackberries are available from May until September, with the peak usually in June and July. Winter berries are imported from Chile.
A blackberry on the vine ripens from green to purple to black; a ripe one is just about jet black and will almost fall off the vine with a gentle touch. If you pick them yourself, look for the blackest berries you can find. If you have to tug at them to get them off the vine, they aren't really ripe.
Blackberries are usually marketed by the half pint. The container is usually cardboard, so check the bottom for stains. If it's badly stained, pass it by. Avoid berries that are very soft or wet, show signs of mildew, or seem to be stuck together in the container.
Since they're not hollow, blackberries will keep a little longer than raspberries, but you want to use them within two days of purchase or picking. Don't keep 'em--eat 'em!
Like all berries, blackberries should be refrigerated unwashed. Spread them out on a tray or in a shallow basket so that they're not packed on top of each other.
Rinse the berries quickly in cold water right before you're ready to serve. Never wash any berry until you're ready to eat it. Blackberries are delicious eaten as is, with cream and sugar, or added to other sliced fresh fruits such as peaches. They make intensely flavored pies and jams.
Other recipes from Produce Pete.