Summer Berries: Save at Least a Few of them For the Table
The hardest part about cooking with summer berries is stopping myself from eating them straight out of the basket or off the bush. Blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries all make spectacular pies, cobblers, tarts, muffins and puddings, but it takes a lot of them to fill a cobbler dish or pie.
So, I’ve found that I can satisfy my eating-out-of-hand snackings and still have some left for dinner or breakfast by using the berries for toppings on pancakes, waffles, yogurt, cakes and my favorite: old-fashioned meringues.
I grew up in Southern California when Knott’s Berry Farm was indeed a farm, not a theme park. My family would go there for Sunday dinners of roast turkey or chicken, always to be followed by pie, usually à la mode, which my father loved.
We usually bought a jar of boysenberry jam, my favorite. After the meal, we would all visit the Knott’s pet store, where my brother and I begged our parents to buy us the “deodorized” skunk that always seemed to be there.
Boysenberries are still my first love, but all the berries are tempting.
Although strawberries come from different production areas in California almost year-round, it’s the local summer strawberries with their sweet, juicy flavor and intense red flesh that become the essence of memories. There are numerous varieties of strawberries, many developed by the University of California. My favorite is the old-fashioned Chandler, first introduced in the early 1980s, then forgotten as newer, firmer, easier-to-ship varieties were introduced. I’m happy to say the Chandler is experiencing a comeback, especially at our area farmers’ markets.
The many varieties of blackberries come into season one after the other. “It’s amazing the difference in the blackberry varieties. They differ in sweetness, tartness, seediness and mouthfeel,” says berry grower Rich Collins of Collins Farms in neighboring Solano County, who grows blackberries and boysenberries for sale at their fruit stand. They sell to wholesale groceries and restaurants, jam makers and host Sunday U-picks at the farm during the season, which runs from Memorial Day weekend into late September. Shelley Collins, Rich’s wife and the inhouse pie maker, says the typical nine-inch boysenberry or blackberry pie takes a full two pints of berries. That’s alot!
Berry growers abound throughout Northern California and in summer the farmers’ markets are brimming with their lush berries of all kinds and colors. Try this recipe to highlight their height-of-the-season flavors—and still have plenty to enjoy while cooking!
Georgeanne Brennan is an award-winning cookbook author, journalist and teacher. Her new book, the Davis Farmers Market Cookbook, arrives this spring. Georgeanne’s food writing appears regularly in the San Francisco Chronicle and she teaches weekend culinary adventures at her small farm in Northern California. For more information about Georgeanne and her work, visit GeorgeanneBrennan.com.