Few activities are as satisfying to me as picking berries. I don't know if it's the repetitive action, the hot sun beating on my back or the fragrance of the berries mingling with the scent of warm earth -whatever triggers my response, I am grateful for it.
I like mixing them up: blueberries with raspberries, raspberries with blackberries, marionberries with raspberries AND blueberries. Visually, I like the difference in color and texture and taste-wise, I enjoy their complementary flavors.
As youngsters, my siblings and I picked strawberries in the fields around my mother's hometown, Lebanon, Ore., a.k.a. 'The Strawberry Capital of the World.' Thinking we should come by berry picking naturally, my grandmother was usually surprised at how few we accumulated in the bottom of our buckets at the end of our picking sprees. Actually we were rather adept at picking, the fault in the process was that we ate at least as fast as we could pick. In the end, there was always enough berries for shortcake and jam after our pick-a-little, eat-a-little berry excursions.
When I moved to Lake Oswego, I picked berries in the fields of Jackie and Gene Wilhelm at Wilhelm Farms, and introduced my nieces, nephews and sons to the just for fun activity. I am pleased to report that without exception, they all are expert berry pickers using the pick-a-little, eat-a-little technique.
My favorite berry is the elegantly flavored raspberry. My husband Mark has planted several raspberry canes around our yard and we are rewarded for his careful tending with large bowls of perfect berries on a daily basis. There is an ample supply for topping breakfast cereal and for after dinner cobblers. The thorns on the raspberry canes are tiny, they can catch your skin or clothing, but release their hold and the fruit with the gentlest of tugs.
Our garden also supplies us with blackberries, which are not as easily picked. Heavily protected by thorns, you have to work for this fruit, but they are worth every rip and tear your body or clothing may endure.
In preparation for picking, I cover all exposed skin - even in the heat of summer - and exchange my flip flops for socks and shoes. I arm myself with long-handled clippers, bowls and step stool and head to the blackberry brambles.
It seems the biggest, best berries are on branches deep in the bramble. Covered body parts allow me to stretch deep into the thorns, carefully snip and then hold onto the berry ladened branches to manuever them through the thorny maze to where I can claim the juicy morsels for my own. It's quiet, peaceful work and the bowls fill all too quickly. The bloody scratches and stained fingers and nails are worth the brimming bowls of fragrant berries.
For more summers than I can remember, I've picked blueberries at Nodaway Blueberry Farm in Wilsonville. Picking blueberries is easy picking - no thorns to thwart your efforts - just reach in and pluck the dusty blue gems off their stems. The berries are firm when ripe and don't stain your fingers like blackberries.
The 2007 Oregon blueberry harvest is expected to be a record-breaker, which hopefully means that the state's 300 blueberry producers can make a profit this year. Demand for blueberries has reached an all time high across the nation as well as in Asia and Europe., due to the numerous health benefits of eating blueberries.
Eating blueberries can help retain memory and lower your risk factors for some cancers. They are a great source of antioxidants for optimum health. Consuming blueberries improves vision, clears arteries and strengthens blood vessels, reverses age-related physical and mental declines and promotes weight control.
As good as they are by themselves, I still prefer my berries mixed with other berries.
One of my favorite summer desserts is a crisp made of a mixture of berries. They are sure-fire simple to create but look elegant whatever the setting. Top them with a little lemon zested ice cream and you've got a dessert that can't be beat.
Bon Appetit! Eat Locally!
Summer Berry Crisp with Lemon Ice Cream
You will need 4 or 5 cups of berries. Use either all of one kind or a mixture of raspberries, marions, blackberry or blueberries for this recipe. Top it with the refreshing Lemon Ice Cream for a super easy summer treat. Makes six servings
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
4 to 5 cups fresh or frozen berries
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 375°F. In medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar and baking powder. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and blend in the egg, mixing until the topping is crumbly. Set aside.
To prepare the filling, mix the flour and sugar in a small bowl. Place the blackberries in a large bowl and sprinkle with the flour and sugar mixture. Toss gently to evenly coat the berries.
Transfer berry mixture to a well-buttered 8-inch by 8-inch glass baking dish and sprinkle topping over berries.
Drizzle melted butter evenly over the crumbly topping. Place baking dish on a baking sheet to prevent spillovers in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes.
For Lemon Ice Cream:
1 pint super premium vanilla ice cream
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Transfer ice cream to a microwave-safe bowl and microwave at 30 percent power at ten second intervals until softened, about 50 seconds total. Stir in zest and juice, then thinly spread in a shallow baking pan and freeze.