Berries the delicious little gems of summer

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal Features Editor
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Biting into a fresh berry is a little bit like having fireworks explode in your mouth. These little gems that pack a flavor punch are some of summer’s finest foods for a number of reasons. And quite a few varieties can be found growing in the foothills. “It’s like a happy food,” Althea Frankel, co-owner of Blue Acres blueberry farm, said of blueberries. “It’s just a beautiful little blue energy food.” Frankel said this year’s organic blueberry harvest is almost over. From a growing perspective it takes some patience to get blueberries going in the foothills, Frankel said — plants take a few years to mature, and you’ve got to keep the gophers and squirrels away. But the labor of love is worth it once you find your stride, she said. “They’ll last for 30 years but you have to prune, you need to keep new growth coming,” Frankel said. The beauty of blueberries, and any other berry, really, is how easy they are to enjoy. “They’re so healthy, and kids eat them like candy,” Frankel said. “It adds so much to a cereal.” Rhonda Boughton of Auburn’s Amber Oaks Raspberries prefers frills-free berries. “I’ll just go down the rows and pick them,” she said, when asked about her favorite way to eat berries. “When they come in hot from the field they smell so good, like a fresh baked pie or something.” Boughton said Amber Oaks’ raspberry season is winding down. They’ve still got olallieberries, youngberries and boysenberries, with another berry burst on the horizon. “The next big crop we have coming in is the thornless blackberries,” Boughton said. Amber Oaks is a you-pick farm, offering visitors the chance to harvest their own baskets of blackberries on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday mornings, by appointment. “When people think of summer, they think of picking berries,” Boughton said. “They’re easy to eat, they’re easy to pick.” When picking blackberries, you should avoid the shiny berries and go for the cloudy, plump ones, Boughton said. “If you have to tug on it, it needs a couple days to ripen,” she said. “It should just fall into your hand.” Joanne Neft of the “Placer County Real Food” project and book, is particularly fond of raspberries but is also quite excited about blackberry season. “This is the year for the blackberry,” she said. “Because of rain and gentle weather, those berries are going to provide us with wonderful flavor.” Neft said wild blackberries are easy to find in the foothills — they grow wild alongside ditches, canals, creeks and streams. “Blackberries are the king of riparian brambles,” she said. Berries in all forms are good for more than just their looks and taste. “All of the berries are so, so good for you,” Neft said. “If you feed berries to your family, you are giving them a gift. It’s a gift of good health.” Catherine Nishikawa, a registered dietician and nutrition and food services manager for Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, said adding berries to your diet is an easy way to meet recommended daily vitamin C and fiber intake. “Fresh berries are a nutritional powerhouse,” she said. Berries, and blackberries in particular, are also must-eats due to their high antioxidant and phytonutrient content, Nishikawa said. “Some studies suggest that diets rich in the antioxidants and phytonutrients found in berries could play a role in lowering your risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases,” she said. “These nutrients are also thought to help maintain vision health.” Nishikawa said it’s easy to incorporate berries into your diet. Stir a handful into some low-fat yogurt, or toss them into a salad. Or, just pop them right into your mouth and enjoy. __________ Blue Acres (916) 543-0996 Amber Oaks Raspberries (530) 885-3420 __________ Raspberry or Blackberry Cobbler 2 cups sugar, divided 1/2 cup plus one tablespoon butter, divided 1 1/2 cups flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 cup milk 3 6-ounce baskets berries 1 tablespoon butter 2 cups boiling water Combine one cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter, flour, baking powder and milk to create batter. Spread batter in 9-by-13-inch pan. Scatter berries over batter. Sprinkle 1 cup sugar over berries (you can use less, about 1/2 cup, if preferred). Dot with remaining butter. Pour boiling water over ingredients. Bake 40-50 minutes at 350 degrees. Batter should be browned and juice should bubble in center. Raspberry Cake For cake 2 baskets raspberries (6 ounces each), mashed 1/2 cup margarine or butter 1 cup sugar 1 egg 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 cups flour 1 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp salt For icing 2 tablespoons mashed berries 1 tablespoon butter or margarine 1 cup powdered sugar Mash berries — you’ll want one cup for the cake and two tablespoons for the icing. Grease and flour an eight-inch round cake pan. Cream sugar, eggs, berries, and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients into mix and beat. Pour into prepared cake pan. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan. Remove from pan and place on serving plate. To make icing, cream together the reserved mashed berries, butter and powdered sugar until you get a spreadable consistency. Pour icing over the top so it drips down the sides. Allow icing to harden on surface for about 30 minutes before serving. ~Recipes courtesy Rhonda Boughton, Amber Oaks Raspberries