Food — A sweet burst of summer, in stages
Despite weather woes, the local berry harvest begins — go ahead, try not to pun
By Amy Diaz firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite the long winter and the rainy spring, the berries are finally arriving.
Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries — these are the celebrities of the berry world and New England is good at producing them. In our part of the region, berry season is from roughly now to as late as September, depending on the type of berry and the variety planted. Strawberries hit first, then blueberries and then raspberries and blackberries. And while you can get berries year-round at the grocery store, the berries available at farm stands and from pick-your-own farms are sweet and flavorful in a way that those southern imports seldom are.
This year’s weather will, as it does every year, determine when you can pick your favorite berry.
“Every farm’s schedule is different,” said Ruth Lavoie, owner of Lavoie’s Farm, 172 Nartoff Road, Hollis. Lavoie, whos’ farm features strawberries as well as other produce, said she started the picking about two weeks ago, leaving about another two weeks to her season. She predicts some crops, including some berry crops, might be late this year due to the cool, rainy spring. Not, however, on her farm.
“We have our strawberries on an incline so we have good drainage,” she said. Farms in low lying lands may face a slower harvest.
And, as the berries come in, the weather could continue to play a factor. Rain, in addition to making it unpleasant to pick berries, could cause them to rot, whereas sun will ripen them faster.
“You are at the mercy of the weather,” Lavoie said.
Over at Durocher Farm, 448 Charles Bancoft Highway in Litchfield, owner Joan Durocher estimated that she’s about two weeks away from opening up the blueberries for picking. They are ready for harvest from about mid-July until about Labor Day, she said. Durocher also does raspberries, which are ready for harvest in mid-August. Both of her berries also like warm, sunny weather to prepare for picking season, but she said only a violent hailstorm would likely throw off the harvest at this point.
With all berries, slightly different varieties can mean different flavors and harvest times.
Lavoie said she has about four varieties of strawberries, some of which are sweeter than others. It’s hard for the layperson to tell the difference so she advises that shoppers looking for something specific ask farmers what’s available.
Durocher said some varieties of blueberries allow for harvest through September and some raspberries also ripen later as well, meaning that with a little hunting some berries will be available fresh from the bush in the fall.
Both Durcoher and Lavoie offer pick-your-own services at their farms; Lavoie and other area farmers also sell their berries at farm stands and/or area farmers’ markets.
So what do you look for when you want that perfect berry for baking or snacking?
Durocher recommends uniformly blue blueberries — unripe berries will have a tinge of red and maroon. For raspberries, which start to break down about 48 hours after being picked, Durocher recommends picking your own so you know how much time you have to work with.
“I instruct pickers that the berry is ripe if, when you touch it, it easily comes of the stem,” she said. If you have to apply force, then the berry isn’t ripe enough yet.
Lavoie tells her pickers to go for the ripe berries. Strawberries don’t ripen off the vine nor do they last more than a few days, so pick berries that are ready to eat.
“It’s a very perishable fruit,” she said.
Which means once you pick, act fast.
Locally farmed berries will be some of the sweetest around — far better than the supermarket standards.
When planning what to do with these brightly colored treasures, keep in mind that “nothing” is a perfectly acceptable answer. I once ate a quart of blueberries (in my defense, it was lunchtime) on the way back to the office from a berry farm. This was by far one of the top five best lunches in my life. For a more genteel, slightly more involved presentation (though, I argue, there’s something to be said for just cramming fistfuls of berries into your face), try this arrangement alongside a cheese plate, either as part of your appetizers or a post-entrée course.
Berries on plate
On a large plate, arrange a two piles of blueberries (about a cup’s worth on each side) across from each other, leaving two quarters of the place full. In the empty spots, pile two equally sized servings of raspberries. (Blackberries and strawberries will work here as well.)
Whip about 1/2 a cup of whipping cream and serve in a small bowl in the center of the plate (or, as a substitute for the whipping cream, serve a small bowl of Devonshire cream or crème fraiche).
Slice fresh plain scones or a fresh French baguette into rounds 1/4 inch thick and arrange around the rim of the plate. Serve with small plates and a spoon for the cream.
Berries also make a wonderful companion to vanilla ice cream, lemon sorbet and vanilla or chocolate frozen yogurt.
But think beyond dessert. Don’t be afraid to put your berries into a crisp summer salad. Strawberries go great with spinach and feta, and blueberries actually serve as a tart palate cleanser to complement blue cheese. Raspberries go well with citrus — salads with mandarin orange or twists of lemon or lime will get a sweet summery kick from this berry. Or try a variation on this combination.
Blackberry walnut salad
In a dry pan, heated on high, gently roast about 1/2 cup salted walnuts for about 3 to 5 minutes (until shiny). Set aside.
In small bowl, whisk together some citrus-flavored vinegar (or white vinegar with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice) with a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 4 of the blackberries, crushed, and some salt. Slowly pour in oil olive, whisking as you pour, until you get a desired taste (the more oil you add, the less tart and heavier it will be).
Empty a bag of baby spinach into a bowl. Add about 3/4 cups of crumbled feta and toss. Slowly add dressing and toss with salad. Add a pint of blackberries (chopped in half) and the nuts, toss and serve.
But perhaps you like your berries in stuff.
Blueberries lend themselves to this perfectly, in part because they are very easy to freeze and even easier to work with once frozen. Freeze blueberries, let thaw slightly right before use, coat very lightly with flour and add to your favorite muffin, pancake, waffle or bread recipe. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries were all made for scones and oatmeal cookies — they offer sweetness and a new bite to the familiar recipes.
For just about all berries, make a fresh and simple no-bake pie. Put about 1 cup of sugar for 1/4 cup of water plus berries into a soup pot, mush berries (or not—the consistency will in part depend on how much fruit flesh you leave in the pie) and let sit for about an hour. Boil the mixture, stirring, and remove from heat when a syrup forms. Add about 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Stir until thickened, pour into a cooked pie-shell and let cool, covered, in the refrigerator for about and hour or two until thoroughly chilled. Serve with whipped cream.
Or go the baked route by mixing the water, sugar (which you can vary according to your own sweet tooth), a bit of lemon zest and corn starch in a pot and stirring until boiling or for about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat, then add the berries (this is also the way to make a whole-fruit, no-bake filling). Pour into an unbaked pastry crust, cover with another crust, cutting diamond-shaped air vents. Brush the top with a light coating of beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Cook for about 30 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees. The fruit will start to dissolve, creating a more solid filling than the no-bake variety. In my experience, baking works best with raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and any combination of those and strawberry-rhubarb. Strawberries and raspberries seem to work the best in the no-bake version.
Local berries shine this time of year, so don’t just lean on the supermarket to get the New Hampshire grown beauties.
Several markets feature locally grown berries. In Manchester, Farm & Flower Market, 15 Webster St., frequently has local berries on its shelves. Many local farmers markets have at least one person offering in season fruit. Check out:
• Nashua, Tuesdays, 3 to 6 p.m. at St. Louis de Gonzague Church, 48 West Hollis St.
• Amherst Farmers’ Market, Village Common, Amherst, June-Oct., Thursdays 3 to 6:30 p.m.
• Bedford Farmers’ Market, Riley Field near the corner of Country and Nashua Roads, Bedfore, mid-June-Oct., Tuesdays 3 to 6 p.m.
• Derry Main Street Farmers Market, Broadway, Derry, spring through fall, Tuesdays 4 to 7 p.m.
• Lowell Farmers Market, City Hall Plaza, Arland Drive, Lowell, MA, July - Oct., Fridays 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
• Manchester Downtown Farmers Market, Concord Street between Pine and Chestnut Streets, June 23-Oct., Thursdays 3 to 6 p.m.
• Milford Farmers’ Markets, Bank of New Hampshire, South Street, Route 13 S, late June through Early Oct., Saturdays 9 a.m. to noon
• New Boston Farmers’ Market, Route 13 Hillsboro Country 4H Fairgrounds, New Boston, late June - Oct., Mondays 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.
• Wear Farmers’ Market, Center of Weare, NH, Fridays 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.
• Wilton Downtown Marketplace, Main Street, Wilton, June -Sept., Fridays 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Or, go to the source. Several farms in the Merrimack Valley grow their own berries. Some sell at adjacent stands or at stands in the area; many also allow you to hunt for your own berries. Each farm opens for picking when the fruit are ready, so call for days and times.
• Berry Good Farm, 234 Parker Road, Goffstown, 497-8138 — blueberries.
• Brookdale Fruit Farm Inc., 38 Broad St., Hollis, 465-2240 — blueberries, strawberries.
• Carter Hill Orchids, 73 Carter Hill Road, Concord, 225-2625 — blueberries.
• Deerview Orchard, 64 Old Center Road North, Deerfield, 463-7549 — blueberries.
• Durocher Farm, 448 Charles Bancroft Hwy, Litchfield, 429-0999 — raspberries, blueberries.
• Elwood Orchards, 54 Elwood Road, Londonderry, 434-6017 — raspberries, blueberries.
• Hillside Apiaries, 31 Hillside Terrace, Merrimack, 429-0808 — raspberries, blueberries.
• Lavoie’s Farms, 172 Nartoff Road, Hollis, 882-0072 — strawberries.
• McLeod Brothers Orchards, N. River Road, Milford, 673-3544 — strawberries.
• McQuesten Farm, Route 3A, Litchfield— strawberries
• Northway Farm, 216 North Road, Candia, 483-2130 — raspberries, blueberries, strawberries.
• Rossview Farm, 84 District 5 Road, Concord, 225-2625 — strawberries.
• Shirley Farm, 106 Shirley Hill Road, Goffstown, 497-4727 — strawberries.
• Sunnycrest Farm, 59 High Range Road, Londonderry, 432-9652 — raspberries, strawberries, blueberries.
• Wilson Farm, Route 3A, Litchfield, 882-5551— raspberries, strawberries, blueberries.
• Zahu’s Berry & Christmas Tree Farm, 211 Jennison Road, Milford, 673-1908 — blueberries.
— Amy Diaz
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