Here are a few official sources for blackberries, if you want to brave the thorns for a juicy treat:
Hard Labor Creek Blueberry Farm
Address: 38 Knox Chapel Road, Social Circle
More info: Open Monday, daylight to dusk. Tuesday through Saturday, daylight to 5 p.m. Bucket provided. Free recipe handout.
The Berry Barn
Address: 1310 North Lake Drive, Canton
More info: You must call for appointment
Address: 3803 Gillsville Highway (Ga. 323), Gillsville
More info: Blackberries, figs, scuppernongs, depending on date; 8 a.m. to noon Mondays-Saturdays, call for availability
Smithgall Woods Conservation Area and Lodge
Address: 61 Tsalaki Trail, Helen
Contact: 706-878-3087 or 800-318-5848
More info: Berries available for picking along trails; hiking required; $5 parking
Enjoying the flavors of Georgia embodies more than peaches and peanuts. For a real down-home experience, not much beats stopping alongside a country road for a basket of fresh blackberries.
Sweet and tart, these inky fruits are easily spotted growing in thickets nearly anywhere they can grab hold. While many people may be turned away by the prickly nature of the bush (they are often mistaken for a common brier), those willing to brave a few scratches are greatly rewarded.
Wild Georgia blackberries are often smaller in size than the cultivated variety found in stores, according to Teresa Jackson of Jaemor Farms. But it’s the fun of picking them that makes roadside, or backyard, blackberries more appealing.
“If you come back with as many berries as you picked, you’ve done something wrong. My grandkids always eat just as many as they pick,” said Jackson.
And preparing the berries for recipes is fairly easy; the only trick is having a gentle touch.
“After you pick them, rinse them off in a colander under cold water and just be careful not to squish the berries,” said Jackson.
That rule of thumb applies to most berries, and blueberries make a perfect mate for blackberries in many desserts.
Carolyn Kitchens of Hard Labor Creek Blueberry Farm in Social Circle said berries should be used fresh promptly after picking.
“They won’t sweeten or ripen any further once they’ve been picked, unlike a peach,” said Kitchen. She and her husband, Bill, will open their farm this Saturday for blueberry picking.
“If you want to freeze the berries, you don’t need to rinse them off; they freeze well dry and you don’t have to thaw them out when you want to use them — just use them frozen,” Kitchen said.
She said some customers have kept them for up to two years.
But blueberries, unlike blackberries, don’t grow wild in Georgia. And for many it seems, it’s the thrill of the hunt that makes these Southern treats worthwhile.
Of course, if it’s too much work on a hot summer day, the cultivated berries work just as well in recipes and are often sweeter.
“The cultivated blackberry is thornless and more of the plant’s energy goes into producing a bigger, sweeter berry,” said Jackson.
Either way, it’s hard to pass up a good home-grown blackberry cobbler, scratches and all.