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It's Berry Season!
Caneberries, bush berries and rhizome runners. Let's eat!
You may not be familiar with the above terminology, but the fruits from these plants have been served on summer tables for centuries. Canes produce blackberries and raspberries; bushes provide blueberries and runners grow strawberries. The berries' individual flavors, shapes, and colors are all part of the summer experience. They entice us to eat them fresh, and lure us to experiment with them in our kitchens. Whether eaten off the vine, bush or runner, frozen, cooked or baked, these juicy treats conjure images of summers past and are potential memories in the making.
The use of berries dates back to 5000 BC when the Mesolithic peoples of Poland, Germany and Scandinavia ate wild strawberries and raspberries. In Medieval Europe, wild berries were considered both medicinal and utilitarian. Their juices were used in paintings and illuminated manuscripts. During this period, only the rich partook of their tasty bounty. King Edward I (1272 - 1307) is recognized as the first person to call for the cultivation of berries; and by the seventeenth century, British gardens were rich with berries and berry bushes. By the eighteenth century, berry cultivation practices had spread throughout Europe. When settlers from Europe came to America, they found Native Americans utilizing and eating berries. Due to the nomadic nature of this culture, berries were dried for preservation and ease of transportation.
In 1761, George Washington moved to his estate in Mount Vernon where he began to cultivate berries in his extensive gardens. Today, cultivated and wild berries appear as medicines, dying agents and as ingredients for the perfect berry dish.
The word "caneberry" is given to some types of berries because they grow on canes that resemble bamboo. The canes grow straight up from the ground; their trailing vines are then attached to a horizontal wire for support. Each year, after bearing fruit, the old growth is removed. The following year's berries are produced from the new growth.
Several blackberries have a similar appearance, though each has a distinct taste. The following are available for eating and planting:
large, red to purple, soft, sweet/tart, wonderful aroma
large, black, firm, sweet, oversized seeds
pale red, firm, tart, excellent for baking in pies
extremely large, purple-black, sweet
large, shiny black, firm, sweet
red/purple/black, mild flavor, sweet
Raspberries are more uniform in flavor and appearance than blackberries. Many varieties are available in both the market and nursery:
tiny to very large, sweet/tart, June bearing
sweet/tart, Fall bearing
blue/black, sweet/tart, seedier, June/July
Blueberry bushes are so beautiful they can be mixed in with the existing landscape and enjoyed for their foliage as well as their fruit. Maximum height is usually six feet.
miniature to very large, light blue to blue black, firm, sweet/tart, available June-August
Strawberries are herbaceous perennials or rhizome runners. These low growing plants have long runners that produce the berries. Easily grown in the ground or in pots, they are also attractive as foliage. Depending on the plant, runners bear fruit in either June or year round.
medium/large, light/dark red, soft/firm, mild/full flavored.
Where to Buy Fresh Berries
Berries may be purchased at grocery stores, though a trip to a local farmers' market or an area farm makes for a rewarding day. At most farms, you can purchase fruit that was in the field that very morning or go out to the field and pick your own.
In Oregon there is an abundance of farms in the Hood River Valley near Portland, Oregon. Area stores and farms have maps to guide the novice. Oregon produces blackberries, farm blueberries, boysenberries, currants and strawberries.
Other berry producing states include:
California: blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries and strawberries
Maine: wild blueberries
Michigan: farm blueberries
New Jersey: farm blueberries
Helpful Berry Hints
- Fresh berries are at their optimum flavor and texture for only two to three days after picking.
- Berries can be chilled, if absolutely necessary.
- Rinse just before eating.
Makes 4 cups
6 cups fresh cranberries
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground allspice
Wash cranberries and place in saucepan with water and sugar, mix to combine. Heat mixture over low flame until cranberries become very soft and water evaporates. Stir in the ground allspice. Pour into sterilized glasses and seal.
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups fresh blackberries
1 egg yolk
3 Tablespoons water
1 recipe plain pastry (follows)
Mix sugar, flour and salt together. Wash blackberries and toss with flour mixture. Line pie pan with one half plain pastry recipe and fill with blackberry mixture. Top mixture with second half of pastry recipe and press edges together. Prick or cut top to allow steam to escape. You can add shine to your finished pie by brushing the top with a mixture of 1 egg yolk and three tablespoons water before baking. Bake at 450 degrees F for ten minutes, then reduce to 350 degrees F and bake for 25 more minutes. Remove when crust is brown and mixture is cooked through.
2 cups sifted flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
4 to 6 Tablespoons cold water
Sift flour and salt together and cut in shortening with two knives or a pastry blender until it is the consistency of coarse meal. Add the water, using only a small portion each time, until the mixture holds together. Divide the dough into two parts. Roll out on a floured surface to the desired size.
Fresh Berry Sauce
makes 2 cups
Berries can easily be made into a sweet sauce that's good for pouring over ice cream, topping a rich chocolate cake or drizzled atop a piece of angelfood cake with a touch of whipped cream and fresh, whole berries.
2 cups fresh berries
1 cup sugar, or to taste
1/4 cup orange-flavored liqueur
Wash berries and place in food processor. Puree berries until they become a liquid. Strain through cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer to remove seeds. Add salt, sugar and liqueur. Let sit for two hours, stir and taste for sweetness. If the sauce seems too thin for your use, it can be simmered gently over a low flame until the desired consistency is reached.
Fresh berries are like having summer in a small package, so grab a handful and enjoy!