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Berry Season: Get ’em now. Like right now.

Sonoma County's local berry season only lasts a few glorious weeks, and the peak is right now.

Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are in season now
Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are in season now

Like me, you’ve been burned by bad berries. You know the ones — big, red, beautiful berries at the grocery store that lure you in with their good looks, but leave you with a disappointed pucker. Or worse.
There’s a season, after all, for everything. And when it comes to berries, it’s painfully short, but unbelievably sweet — hitting it’s pinnacle for just a few weeks each summer. Those weeks are right now. Like right now. Now!
This is the perfect time to eat them and get a feel for each of them — the distinct flavors of each one of them,” said Gloria Vigil of Sebastopol Berry Farm. “This is what nature meant for you to have as a berry.” Vigil’s 10-acre family farm is one of the few dedicated exclusively to cultivating berries in the area.
The best place to find them: Local farmer’s markets. Because ripe berries are extremely perishable — and only truly delicious when picked ripe — the only way to really enjoy them is straight off the truck, within a day or two. Berries that are transported for large distances have to be picked unripe, and though they may look good, just won’t have the flavor of a truly ripe berry.
With this year’s rains, the fruit crop is about two weeks behind its usual schedule, according to Vigil, meaning that you’ll still be able to take advantage of the bounty. But don’t blink, or you’ll miss it. Here are some of the best berries to look out for…

CONTEST
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Your favorite way to eat berries?

Tell me your favorite way to eat local berries — whether you have a great recipe for cobbler, muffins or ice cream; a favorite spot to enjoy them or maybe just your favorite berry topping (mine’s creme fraiche!). One lucky winner will receive a bounty of berries from Sebastopol Berry Farm and the River Cottage Preserves Handbook.

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Blueberries are the workhorse of the summer berries, the least temperamental of the bunch. They pop their little blue faces onto the scene in early June and will last through mid-August. Fresh blueberries should always retain their powdery white “bloom”, a natural preservative on the berries. If that’s gone, they’ve been over-handled, according to Vigil. They’ll stay fresh in the fridge for a week or so, freeze well and are amenable to both sweet and savory dishes. Plus, their health-properties are lauded by scientists and nutritionists. Vigil’s blueberry ice cream is legendary among local foodies and is available at her family farm stand (call ahead for hours, 694.2301)
Blackberries (the most popular of which is the “Marion”, named for Marion County, Oregon where it was developed) have a ridiculously short peak season, and will be hitting their peak this week. Marions, according to The Berry Bible’s Janie Hibler (AmazonEncore, $17.95), have an intense blackberry flavor. Also watch for Olallies, which are another type of blackberry that ripens early in the season and has a sweet-tart character. Vigil said that Marion, Ollalie and Cherokee are always “crowd favorites” at her stand.
Although the parentage of Boysenberries may be obscure, they’re unmistakably Californian in nature. Thought to be a cross between a logan and Eastern dewberry, some credit its discovery to horticulture-legend Luther Burbank, though it was popularized by southern California farmer, Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm. Perishable to a fault, they’ve lost favor with most commercial growers because of their short shelf life — just a day or two. Local boysenberries will be in season only until the first weeks of July, so snap them up if you can find them. “They make the best jam and pies,” said Vigil.
Black Raspberries: Mysterious and elusive, the mere whisper of fresh black raspberries whips berry lovers into a frenzy. Another highly delicate, quick-to-perish berry, they’re best enjoyed right from the farmstand — if you can find them during their brief season, which is only through the next week or so. At their peak, they’ll have a deeper, darker flavor than the pert red raspberry. And of all the berries, they’re the king of nutrition, packed with the most anti-oxidants of any berry.
Red Raspberries: The darling of the berry world, raspberries are perennial favorites both as fruit and historically, as a medicinal herb. A vigorous plant, they’re often found wild and easily cultivated in the backyard. Yellow (or golden) raspberries have a similar taste to the red version, but are gaining popularity as a gourmet fruit.
Strawberries: Sold year-round and bred commercially for size and color rather than taste, strawberries are a kitchen staple — but only rarely at their very best. Due to a late start, they’re at their zenith right now and you’ll be lucky to make it home with a pint or two from the local farmers market. Strawberries are always best fresh from the patch, and like tomatoes, suffer a bit after they’ve been refrigerated. Keep in mind that size doesn’t always matter: Those giants you see at the supermarket are sometimes harvested long before they’re actually ripe, making for a pretty, but ultimately unsatisfying experience. Smaller berries, like the coveted alpine strawberries, often pack the biggest punch.
How to keep them: Delicate by nature, berries don’t appreciate a lot of handling. It’s recommended that you refrigerate most berries (strawberries are the exception), then leave them out to warm up on the counter for a few minutes before serving. If you’re going to freeze them, Gloria suggests that you not give hers a power-wash, but just a light rinse. “We pick ’em and put them in the containers that day and cold storage them overnight. There isn’t a lot of handling. We are certified organic, so we know there’s nothing on them but some dust,
Where to find them: Blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are available at the Sebastopol Berry Farm (9201 Ross Station Rd in Sebastopol (heading towards Forestville) or at many local farm markets. Call ahead to see if their farm stand is open 694.2301, or find them at Tuesday evening and Saturday markets in Healdsburg, Wednesday and Saturday market in Santa Rosa and Petaluma market on Saturday evening during peak season. Strawberries are available at most local farm markets for the next few weeks.

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Comments

14 thoughts on “Berry Season: Get ’em now. Like right now.

  1. My fave way to eat fresh berries is as a topping. Everyone else on here seems to agree! On ice cream, yogurt/kefir, or on granola with some organic Clover-Stornetta milk. All are great ways to enjoy the natural and vibrant taste without being over-powered. You don’t need to do much to enjoy! 😉

  2. Perfect ar anytime:
    Scoup of your favorite ice cream or frozen yogurt.
    Top with your favorite fresh berries.
    No work, but absolutely the best. A two point Weight Watchers dessert with frozen yogurt.

    1. My favorite way to use fresh berries is to make a rustic berry galette A good pie crust is key so hone your skills! I just roll the crust, fill with a layer of luscious berries and sprinkle with no more than 2 tbls sugar and a dash of cardamom. Bake til brown and dripping with goodness and serve warm with whipped creme fraishe!

  3. This fruit crisp has never failed me and gets raves from everyone. This is the ‘birthday cake’ of choice in our family.
    Blackberry (or any other berry) Crisp
    6-7 cups berries, picked over and cleaned; 2/3 cup sugar, 2 T Flour (sift together before putting on berries)–mix together in bowl and pour into an 8 x 8 pan and set aside.
    1 cup unbleached flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 t baking powder(sifted together in a medium bowl; 1 egg, lightly beaten, 6 T butter melted
    Add egg into flour mixture, stir with fork until just mixed and sprinkle this over berries evenly; pour melted butter over top of all and bake in preheated oven 375 degrees for one hour. Serve warm or room temperature with vanilla ice cream of choice.

  4. the last photo on this page is a “berry” that you shouldn’t eat…it’s a plant called Callicarpa…stay away

  5. For Father’s Day I made a wonderful mixed berry trifle using only local berries and Straus whipping cream It was a huge hit. The very ripe fresh berries make all the differance in the world.

  6. Suger? BBQ? Why ruin perfectly good berries! My wife and I prefer ours in a bowl topped with a sliced banana. And occasionally with a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla.

  7. Take a tortilla shell put some fresh berrys any kind you like ( I like raspberrys and strayberrys) some milk chocolate fold it up brush with a little butter and put on BBQ until outside is nice and brown and inside nice a gooey!

  8. Breakfast, lunch or dinner? My absolute favorite way to eat them is probably a mixed shortcake recipe with a little chocolate sauce and freshly made vanilla ice cream… but on top of pancakes with pure maple syrup would run a close second.

  9. My favorite berry recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen: You can use whatever berries are your favorite but I like to use raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Take a pint of each and mix them with about a tablespoon of sugar. Put the berry mixture in ramekins. In a food processor, grind up 3 slices of bread crumbs and mix with two tablespoons of brown sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla. Place the mix on top of the berries and bake for about 12 minutes or until cripsy on top. I like to make my own whip cream for the finish but it is also good with vanilla ice cream. Yum!

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