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    Categories: Lifestyle

Late summer berry bliss

Blackberries have a lot of health benefits and are delicious.

Though there are officially a few weeks left of summer, brisk mornings and earlier sunsets signal that autumn is just around the corner. There are many ways to capture the last warm and glorious weeks of summertime, even once the fall scheduled has arrived – check out a corn maze, grab some late harvest vegetables – corn, carrots, pumpkins, tomatoes, onions, etc. – from the farmers’ market or your own garden, or, if time and budget allow, zip across province to B.C. to reap the fruity rewards of a more temperate climate than ours.

That’s just what we did this August, enjoying several days of just-ripe peaches, nectarines and plums throughout the Okanagan, with soon-to-be-ripened apples and pears teasing us from roadside orchard trees. Even farther west, it was the glorious blackberries just coming into season on Galiano Island – an hour ferry ride from Tsawwassen, just outside Vancouver. We nicknamed it blackberry island because every road, every path, and every turn offered the prickly blackberry brambles heavy with fruit that just seemed begging to be picked.

Mike Wood, who has lived on Galiano Island for decades, said most of the blackberries are in fact on private land, but the dark, bursting berries and prickly stems reached across property lines and onto public paths, turning up in the island’s small grocery stores, weekend farmers market and on local restaurant menus. Fresh, homemade blackberry pie – yes, please.

In a few days on the island, we picked buckets of blackberries more than once, often filling a pail within a half hour – when we weren’t beachcombing along the rocky ocean shore. Sweet and slightly tart on their own – fresh and warm from the sun – simmered down into a syrup for pancakes or adorned simply with vanilla ice cream, blackberries were just about the highlight of our trip.

Back at home at this time of year, St. Albertans can typically only find blackberries at the B.C. fresh fruit stands at the weekend farmers market, or frozen in the grocery, but it’s worth hunting them down. According to everythingzoomer.com, intensely coloured berries are high in flavonoids, known antioxidants, and anthocyanin, the pigment that provides intense colour and has a number of disease-protecting properties. Berries are even shown to reduce high blood pressure and the risk of heart attack, according to the website.

Spending a few warm, breezy days on the island picking the plump, juicy berries, with nothing but a few sweet-loving wasps buzzing about to distract me, I can vouch for the calming effect the berries can have – maybe that helps with the blood pressure, but maybe it helps to be hundreds of kilometres from the worries and pressures of everyday life, too.

Determined gardeners or big-time berry lovers may just be able to get a taste of this glorious berry, without having to cross provincial borders to pick them. Jim Hole, co-owner of Hole’s Greenhouses and Gardens, said while blackberries just aren’t as hardy as their rough-and-tumble relative the raspberry, the Chester variety can make it in our colder zones.

“Blackberries need a longer season – they’re just a more tender fruit, but we sell the Chester here every year,” Hole said. “I’d recommend taking the canes to ground level each year, with cover for extra protection. But many things in the garden are an experiment, so I tell people to give it a shot.”

After a week stuffing our faces with summer-warmed, perfectly-ripe blackberries, I’m with Hole. Give it a shot.

Blackberries 101

Here are some facts you may not know about this dark, late-summer luscious berry, according to huffingtonpost.ca:
• Blackberries are low in sodium, have just 62 calories a cup and are rich in Vitamin C.
• Blackberries are known by a variety of names, including brambleberries, bramble, dewberry and thimbleberry
• The high astringent tannin content of blackberries is effectively used as a mouthwash
• Traditionally, leaves and bark of the plant have been used to treat mild gum inflammation and even sore throats, while the leaves make a therapeutic, if bitter, tea
• The healthy dose of Vitamin K is said to help relax muscles, and the juice can help blood to clot

Lucy Haines: Lucy Haines has been a freelancer writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2012. She writes features on travel, food, seniors, homes and gardens.