Friday, July 31, 2009

Apple #400: Blackberries

Blackberries, some not yet ripe
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

In one of the parks where I like to go for walks, there are tons of blackberry bushes. They line the path for quite a ways but then there is a whole uncut field that is chock full of blackberry bushes. There are so many of them, it almost seems like somebody planted them on purpose, except they're growing every which way and not in rows or even the remnants of rows. They're just everywhere. And they're starting to ripen.

  • I used to get blackberries mixed up with black raspberries -- which are magnificent and may be my favorite berry.
  • Black raspberries look like name suggests, raspberries that are black. Beyond the nomenclature, you can also tell the difference because compared to blackberries, the black raspberries' seed knobs -- the term for that is drupelets -- are much smaller and more tightly packed.

Black raspberries, also with a few not yet ripe.
(Photo from acaiberrypurebulk)

Blackberries. You can see how the drupelets (seed knobs) are much larger in these than they are in the black raspberries.
(Photo by your Apple Lady)

Now that we've got the differences between the two straightened out, here are some facts about blackberries:

  • Blackberries are a member of the rose family. To be fair, the rose family is very large.
  • Blackberries grow wild in North America, but they are cultivated and grown commercially in Europe, Africa, and Asia, as well as North America.
  • Blackberries are sometimes also called brambleberries. But really that word "bramble" can refer to any of a slew of fruits that produce long vines with thorns -- raspberries, loganberries, boysenberries, dewberries, as well as blackberries, to name a few.

This branch with blackberries growing all over it had been knocked over onto the ground. But it gives you a good look at the woody cane on which these things grow. I don't know whether you can see them or not, but there are also small, thin thorns that grow on these bushes. They might be small, but those thorns can scrape you up pretty good.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • Blackberries, like raspberries, are an aggregate fruit. This means they have lots of drupelets (knobs of fruit surrounding a seed) that are ganged together to form one larger fruit.
  • Blackberries also have a tough center core, which is called the receptacle. Just as the core of a pineapple is tough and woody and has less flavor, so too is the receptacle of a blackberry. The larger the blackberry, the bigger the receptacle.
  • Raspberries also have a receptacle, but theirs doesn't come away with the fruit; it stays on the plant.
  • Because of its receptacle plus all the seeds, up to 20% of a blackberry is fiber, which gives it one of the highest fiber contents of all fruits.
  • Like any dark fruit, blackberries are very high in antioxidants. So eating them regularly may be helpful in guarding against various forms of cancer or cardiovascular disease.
  • Many moons ago in the Pacific Northwest, people used to grind up the blackberry canes to make a powder that they used to treat toothache pain. I don't know whether it worked, only that they used to do it.
  • If you studied the taxonomy of blackberries, you would be called a batologist. And you would have a surprising amount of work; there are over 1,000 species of blackberry. Here are some of them:
  1. arctic blackberry
  2. bristly Oswego blackberry
  3. Himalayan blackberry
  4. Tampa blackberry
  5. Baton Rouge blackberry
  6. shrubby blackberry

Some especially big blackberries. They're also longer and pointier than a lot of the other blackberries I took photos of. I'm guessing they're a different species. Who knows how many different blackberry species are growing in this blackberry metropolis.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

This is only a fraction of the blackberry bushes growing and making fruit in this park. Multiply this amount of berries on this number of branches by a couple thousand and you'll get the idea.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

There were so many blackberries in this park, I couldn't resist. I picked some. I left some for the birds and the animals -- I saw a robin eating one off the bush -- but I picked a good amount.
  • When picking blackberries, or any fruit, the fruit should come away easily when you pull on it. If you have to tug or twist to get it off the branch, it's not ripe yet. Leave it and try another, which will be sweeter.

The final haul. Yum.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Once I got my blackberries home, I had a plan for them. I took about a third of what's in that strainer there, rinsed them, and put them in a little pot with a healthy squirt of lemon juice and a couple tablespoons of sugar. I heated them up and smashed them as much as I could with a wooden spoon. Those receptacles just did not want to soften. But soon I turned those berries into a saucy sauce.

Then I got a little round spongecake (thanks, grocery store) and poured that sauce over the sponge cake. Put some more of the fresh berries over the sauce, plus some good ol' Cool Whip and a final sprinkling of fresh berries, and there you have the Blackberry Dessert Extravaganza. Delicious.

My blackberry dessert. I call it Lisa Marie.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • If you want to freeze blackberries, don't wash them first. They'll all stick together when they freeze and then turn to mush when you thaw them.
  • Instead, freeze them without rinsing. If you can, lay them on a cookie sheet so they're not touching each other, and once they're frozen you can tumble the little frozen fellows into a Ziploc bag or some other container.
  • If you don't have room in your freezer for an entire cookie sheet, you can put the berries straight into the container. But they might still stick together when they freeze.
  • Also be sure to leave some extra room in the container. Berries are mostly water, and water expands when it freezes.

P.S. In answer to Mark's question (see the comments), yes, the BlackBerry handheld phone is named after blackberries the fruit.
  • The company that makes the BlackBerry (Research in Motion, or RIM, based in Canada) hired a marketing company that specializes in creating brands. One of the guys at this company, Lexicon Branding, thought that the keyboard buttons looked like strawberry seeds, so maybe it should be called a strawberry.
  • From there, they considered lots of fruit names including "melon" and also some vegetables but discarded those. Can you imagine calling your fancy little device a melon?
  • Finally they settled on blackberry because the device was black, and the word was fun to say.

P.P.S. The name for the short-distance wireless connectivity protocol, Bluetooth, has a much more exotic history. And it sort of involves berries.
  • One of the founders of Bluetooth, Jim Kardach, was at a business meeting when a guy named Sven Mathesson who worked for Ericsson mentioned a Danish king named Harald Bluetooth.
  • After Kardach got home, he got a book of Danish history and looked up this Bluetooth person (ah, research!).
  • The short version of the king's story is this: Harald Blåtand ("Bluetooth" in English), lived in the late 10th century. He was named Blåtand, which means "dark complexion," because he had dark hair, which was unusual among the Danes. Some people like to say that he was called Blåtand because he liked to eat blueberries which stained his teeth, but that would take a lot of blueberries to stain your teeth permanently.
  • The reason Kardach settled on Bluetooth as the name for his device is because the thing Harald Blåtand is famous for is uniting Denmark and Norway, and he converted the Danes to Christianity. I'm not sure why converting people to Christianity was relevant, but Kardach thought it was, as well as the fact that Blåtand had united two countries. His product helped to bring people together, so he decided Bluetooth would be a good name for it.

You might also be interested in my entry on the phrase "blackberry winter."

Health Learning Info, Blackberries Nutrition Facts
Fact Monster, Fruit: Fun Facts, Blackberries and Raspberries
Beulah Land Berries, Berry Facts
USDA Plants Database, Classification for Rubus L. - blackberry
"How did the BlackBerry get its name?" The Ottawa Citizen, November 5, 2006
Jim Kardach, "How Bluetooth got its name," EE Times scandinavia, March 5, 2008
jrdante's post on BlackBerry's Bluetooth help message board


  1. #400! OMG!
    Blackberries also make the Bramble a fantastic drink.

  2. You write good posts. So informative.

  3. Is the "Lisa Marie" named after Lisa Marie Presley? Is the Blackberry handheld device named after blackberries? Thanks for another cool post, Apple Lady!

  4. Thanks for noticing the 400, Jason. I was going to mention it, but then decided better to wait until #500.

    I thought of Lisa Marie Presley, but no, the dessert is not named for her. It could be named for any Lisa Marie.

    Thanks, Aurora!

  5. Thanks, so much, for the freezing tip. That explains why mine haven't come out so well in the past. :o)

  6. In the PNW blackberries (invasive Himalayan variety esp) are a plague. The countryside is filled in with them. A walk in the woods, if you stray off the well worn trail is a pricker filled struggle. They will take over your yard if you don't keep after them.
    People can rent goats to eat them. You've gotta love the fact that exists
    The most annoying part is that the Himalayan variety is NOT a particularly tastey variety - it's pretty bland and watery, so it's not even good picking.
    The native blackberry is much tastier and much slower growing.

    Good bit about Bluetooth. I'm named for Harald's mother.

  7. Rent-a-goat? That's awesome!

  8. Thanks for answering my question about the blackberry mobile device, Apple Lady. You're the best!


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