By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
When it comes to produce, berries are synonymous with summer. What’s ripe and pickable depends on where you live in the country. Around me, the four most popular berries are available. One evening this week, my son Ben, his wife Rachel, and their two boys, Emet (age 9) and Jonas (age 6), joined me in an outing to Tru2Earth Farms in Gilroy, a brief 10-minute drive to pick organic strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.
It had been a beautiful day and as the sun was getting lower in the sky, the temperature was perfect for being out in the open fields, nestled in the foothills. The evening light and breeze were stellar. The five of us hit the strawberry fields first. These were real strawberries, redder than red throughout instead of a white interior. Sweet, don’t ask!
Jonas was laser-focused on picking the biggest, ripest strawberries. He would shout “Here’s a big juicy one!”
Next, we divided and conquered. Rachel and the boys moved over to the blueberries while Ben and I headed for the blackberries. OMG! These berries were huge, some of them an inch and a half long. Since the season has just began, we had to sort through the various stages of ripeness from white, to pink, to red, to black. Easy enough to identify.
Tru2Earth is a relatively new farm, this being their third summer season. The owners have planted five acres of berries, strawberries being the most popular. Second are the blackberries. What is great about this farm is how organized the rows of fruit are. You’re not searching for berries through prickly brambles. One can go up and down the aisles in an organized fashion.
Picking blackberries is easy because they are at torso height, easy to see, easy to reach. Strawberries, which grow close to the ground and require bending and stooping, take a physical toll on these old bones. A great feature of blackberries is that they have a white center core that prevents them from squashing when they’re piled on top of each other. Raspberries don’t have this core, so it is better to package them in low, flat containers to keep them from crushing.
Our Gilroy outing made me think back to my previous berry-picking adventures. During the early ’80s, Bob and I lived on a lake in suburban Detroit in a house that came with a very large raspberry patch. That one was NOT organized, and we were forever getting scratched by having to bushwhack through the canes. When we moved to our home of 35 years in West Bloomfield, Mich., only three miles from the raspberry patch, Bob dug up some roots and transplanted them in our new one-acre backyard.
This new patch produced nicely until the wild blackberries growing near our stream and woods traveled to the raspberries. Eventually, the blackberries won the battle and literally strangled the raspberries. Wild blackberries have a tendency to take over any empty space along fences, creeks, old buildings, rocks, or anywhere else they feel like.
In 2008, Bob and I went on an adventure to Vancouver Island. While waiting in our car in line to board the car ferry, I gazed around. Much to my amazement, growing in major abundance along this long fence were tons of large juicy blackberries. Am I going to eat those? You betcha! I filled my pockets and then some.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful nutritional value of berries. They are high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins C and K, magnesium and potassium. They are fantastic eaten straight up or mixed in fruit salad, yogurt, green salads or a variety of desserts.
Today’s recipe is a perfect, versatile dessert for the summer season. I’m making Blackberry Tart with Devonshire Cream. You can easily replace the blackberries with blueberries, strawberries or raspberries. Everything else in the recipe stays the same. One fun idea is to make circles of raspberries and blueberries. Along with the white cream, you have a perfect dessert for July 4th!
Tell us here at The Insider your experiences with picking berries. Did you eat more than you brought home?
Blackberry Tart with Devonshire Cream
Yield: 10-12 servings
12 oz. fresh blackberries
1 c. flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
3 oz. cold butter, cut into bits
1 lg. egg yolk
1-2 Tbsp. ice water
Combine the flour, sugar, and butter in a mixing bowl. Work the butter into the flour, using the tips of your fingers and thumbs until it resembles cornmeal. Whisk together the yolk and 1 Tbsp. of ice water. If the dough is too dry, add another tablespoon of ice water. Pour into the flour mixture. If it doesn’t come together, drizzle in a little water at a time until it is a uniform dough. Flatten into a disc, wrap in cling film, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Devonshire cream filling:
9 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
3 Tbsp. sugar
2/3 c. sour cream, room temperature
juice of 3/4 lemon, or to taste
3/4 tsp. vanilla
Blend together the cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in the sour cream. Whisk in the lemon juice and vanilla. Chill well.
1/2 c. strawberry or currant jelly
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Put the jelly and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Melt over low heat until there are no more lumps. Bring to a boil; boil for 1 minute or until glazy.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to fit into a 9” or 11” removable bottom tart pan. Prick all over with a fork. Freeze for 30 minutes. Place on a cookie sheet.
Line tart with foil. Place a heavy pan on the foil to weight it down. Bake at 375° for 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake blind at 350° for another 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool completely before placing on a cake plate.
Spread the cheese filling evenly over the tart. Beginning with outside edges, place berries stem-side down, close together. Continue in circles until the tart is filled with tightly packed berries.
Brush the glaze carefully onto the berries, filling in the holes with glaze. Chill to set.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.