Blackcaps are now ripe and plentiful around East Niagara. (PHOTOS BY
BOB CONFER / ENP CONTRIBUTOR)
That unbelievably-tasty morsel is the blackcap.
The blackcap is a member of the rubus genus, the same group of plants as blackberries, those longer berries that become ripe in August and, despite their popularity as a garden plant, have an inferior flavor.
Blackcaps are ripe now and will be for another week and a half, maybe two weeks at the most. Perhaps because of the copious amounts of rainfall we’ve had since late-May, this year’s crop is sporting the largest berries that I have ever seen. Plus, they are available in good numbers, too. It’s certainly a bumper crop.
You really can’t confuse the berries with those of any other plant – they are round, bulbous, bumpy and dark blue to black when ripe (unripe berries are whitish to red). Despite their easy identification, I always urge parents to watch their small children when picking berries; blackcaps grow on disturbed soils, often next to nightshades the oval, smooth red or black berries of which are poisonous.
You can identify a blackcap plant by its height (up to three feet), leaflets in groups of three or five depending on variety or subspecies, and light-green stems with thorns. It is because of those thorns that you must wear long pants (not shorts) if you are really serious about harvesting blackcaps.
|Blackcap plants' thorns make long pants a necessity when "harvesting."|
If you have a couple of plants taking root in your yard, don’t mow them over. Let them be; blackcaps can be pretty prolific. If allowed to flourish and grow on their own, you will find that you will have a nice dense patch of plants in a couple of years.
The blackcap goes by a few other names…bramble, black raspberry…but it seems that anyone who has ever eaten one calls it “mmm, mmm, mmm.” The flavor is unique among berries. It’s sweet, but not too sweet as some summer fruits tend to be, not the least bit sour and the texture is firm and you get the added textural experience of biting into countless, minute, crunchy seeds in each bite.
It’s the firmness of blackcaps that allows them to keep well in the fridge. If you pick them on a Monday and keep them cool, you can still enjoy them on Friday. Related to that firmness, they aren’t too juicy (read “messy”) when handled -- you won’t need to go crazy washing your hands after picking and eating them like you might have to with mulberries.
Many people make pies and purees out of blackcaps, but I find that to ruin the precious fruits. They are best savored on their own, fresh and unspoiled or lessened by cooking and processing. You will, though, find me breaking my own advice and using blackcaps as a topping on a bowl of vanilla ice cream most nights while the berries grace our landscape. You can’t beat that.
So, get outdoors now, enjoy blackcaps while you can; their appearance on the Niagara Frontier is like our summer --- fleeting and it must be savored.
+Bob Confer lives in rural Gasport where he and starlings fight for blackcaps. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the 02 July 2015 East Niagara Post