Blackberries need to be picked fully ripe to get the best flavor, bursting with tartness. Ripe berries don't store or ship well, so buy them locally and in-season, to make sure you aren't getting ones picked half-ripe (which turn out bitter).
When are blackberries in season?
Blackberries are in season from about May through October. They only get sweet while ripening on the vine, and can end up quite bitter when picked unripe. Most places in the country grow blackberries, so you should be able to find them at a farmers market or U-pick near you.
Why a farmers market or U-pick is worth the trip
Ripe berries present a problem: they are very soft and highly perishable, making them difficult to ship to a grocery store. Because of this, farmers often prioritize shipping and storage over flavor in several ways:
- Plant varieties where berries are easily pulled off the vine at earlier stages, when they are still harder
- Plant varieties that are firmer in general, to withstand shipping
- Pick berries before they are fully ripe to withstand shipping and store longer
On the other hand, sellers at farmers markets are catering to an audience that prioritizes flavor. They know that selling flavorless or bitter blackberries won't go over well with customers, especially when allowed to taste the berries before purchase. Varieties sold at farmers markets are more often selected for flavor and picked at a fairly ripe stage.
Even farmers market blackberries won't have been left on the vine until fully ripe. While I'm sure they'd love to offer that to you, the berries won't make it to the market without turning to mush. I grow blackberries and can tell you that I carefully put them on a paper-towel lined plate when I pick them, or they get crush. But the flavor is incredible.
This brings me to U-picks - farms that let you pick the fruit yourself. It's worth doing at least once a season. Look for blackberries that are slightly dull (not shiny), a sign they are riper. Be prepared to eat or preserve what you buy within a few days as they mold quickly. See if blackberries are available at a U-Pick near you (and be ready for thorns).
What else is currently season
How to pick & store
To buy the best blackberries look for ones that are plump and show no sign of shriveling. They should also be very dark in color, indicating ripeness. Blackberries do not ripen after being picked.
To store, place them in a paper towel-lined container (unwashed) to absorb any moisture. Remove any bruised or bad berries, and then place the container in the fridge. They should last a few days, or up to a week if you're really lucky.
You can also try dipping them for 30 seconds into 125 F degree water (boiling is 212F so get out your thermometers). Harold McGee, a food science author, tested various methods of briefly heating delicate berries to reduce mold growth. He found it dramatically reduce mold growth and increased storage duration of blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries.
Should I buy organic?
I couldn't find testing data from the EPA on the pesticide levels found in blackberries. Raspberries, which are similar plants and grown in similar climates have a low level of pesticides in the EPA reports, which means they are near organic levels.
For more information on the EPA data, visit the Consumer Reports website.
Why are blackberries bitter?
You may have noticed that blackberries sometimes have that extra bitter taste, where other summer berries like raspberries or blueberries don't. The stem end and core in the blackberries contains the bitter compounds.
As mentioned in "Why blackberries are bitter & how to fix it," both sugar and fat balance out bitterness, and salt reduces our ability to taste it. The bitter compounds also break down with heat, so a pork tenderloin simmered with blackberries loses its bitterness, and so does a blackberry pie.
Each recipe below only uses ingredients that are in season at the same time as blackberries, or ingredients that have a year-round season (like onions or limes).
Fruit adds natural sweetness to beverages and can end up overly sweet. Blackberries rarely have that problem because they add tartness (and sometimes bitterness) to drinks.
Meat & blackberries
Savory dishes often benefit from a sweet element. Take a couple of classic examples like turkey + cranberry sauce or pork + apples. Blackberries are one of the most common fruits to accompany gamey meats like venison and duck.
If making a sauce to go with meat, consider straining out the seeds after it cooks down (even if the recipe doesn't tell you to do so). As the liquid in the sauce reduces, the ratio of seeds-to-sauce increases and can end up distracting.
Sides & salads
Almost any cheese pairs well with both the sweet and bitter elements in blackberries, from a hard aged manchego to a soft brie or goat cheese.
Salads with blackberries are also delicious, but beware of the bitterness. As mentioned in "Why are blackberries bitter & how to fix it," when blackberries are picked before fully ripening on the vine, they can be quite bitter. Adding bitterness to a salad with bitter greens can be overwhelming, but perfectly ok on salads with non-bitter greens.
If you often feel that sweet desserts are one-dimensional, try using blackberries for added complexity. Their tartness adds an unexpected element to the usual sweet treat.
Straight-up blackberry jam is delicious, but you can also customize it to your liking. If blackberries are too tart, try adding in another type of fruit. If you don't like crunching on the seeds, you can strain them out for a seedless jam.