Summer is officially here and the wild blackberries are starting to ripen in NC. I've started this discussion to share tips and tricks to make all the tromping through the brambles and ticks all the more worthwhile for this easy to make sweet summer treat. So first, the blackberry is naturally adapted to have varying ripening times. Gathering enough to make a batch of jam will probably take a few pickings. I say freeze the berries until you have enough. Like blueberries and strawberries, lay them out on a baking sheet and freeze each one individually before packaging. One from Grannie: If you are using a no-sugar or low-sugar recipe, make sure to pick some semi-ripe berries, as they have a higher pectin content. You can pick up to a third of the total berries semi-ripe. Some great places to pick them are cut-over areas, or on the edges of forests. Avoid roadsides and railroad beds, while there may be plenty there, transportation agencies typically spray these areas with herbicides. Old country dirt roads are usually OK, they just tend to get a lot of dust. While picking, remember you are competing with all kinds of animals; black bears, raccoons, box turtles, rodents and all the things that eat them (like snakes) so be prepared for a close encounter with the animal kingdom. I wear rip-stop jeans tucked into my boots and long sleeves, as blackberry habitat is usually unhospitable. Be sure to take advantage of Nature's bounty this summer, and stock up on this sweet treat, it'll be a real spirits lifter in the winter!