In summer, natural sweet strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, red and golden raspberries grow in abundance. Whether you love them in fruit salads, desserts, smoothies, or just eat them out of your hand, they are delicious! With their huge nutritional value and sweet taste, you can’t go wrong.
Buying them at your local farmers’ market will ensure you get the best freshly harvested flavor. They are harvested at their peak of maturity rather than being harvested unripe to be shipped from distant places. Have you ever noticed that when you buy strawberries at the grocery store, they are still firm and white inside? They were harvested too early and were not allowed to ripen on the vine to develop their wonderful sweet taste.
Natural sugars are added towards the end of the ripening of the berries, so the later you pick them, the sweeter the berries. The same can be said about other berries. All berries are fragile and should be eaten as soon as possible after purchase – another reason to get them at the farmers’ market. The key is freshness!
Strawberry: Locally grown strawberries are cultivated descendants of the original wild varieties. Strawberries thrive along the California coast because western exposure and Pacific winds insulate fields from extreme temperatures and weather, providing ideal growing conditions year-round.
Varieties you’ll find at local farmers’ markets include Frontera, Monterey, Albion, and more, each with slightly different sweetness, season, and size.
Blueberry: Ah, blueberries, the miracle child of the berry world. Advertised as one of nature’s superfoods, they are rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber, manganese, and antioxidants.
Substances in blueberries called polyphenols, specifically anthocyanins, give blueberries their blue hue and are a major contributor to blueberries’ antioxidant activity. You will find High Bush blueberries, which are grown by farmers, compared to Low Bush, which is a wild variety.
Raspberry: Raspberries are the most fragile of all berries, but for their tangy-sweet taste and health benefits, they are worth every bite. Varieties are available in red, black, purple and gold hues, with red raspberries remaining the favorite.
There are many hybrids in these colors as well. Ask your farmer what is best for your use.
Blackberry: Blackberries, like raspberries, are considered blackberries, and if you’ve grown up in the Bay Area, you’ve seen plenty of wild Himalayan blackberries. Most farmers consider them a nuisance because they tend to take over the land, spreading everywhere with their roots and long brambles.
Some of the varieties grown by berry farmers are Navajo and Triple Crown. You’ll find sweet summer berries at the Concord Farmers’ Market at Vasquez Berry Farms in Moss Landing and Rodriguez Farms in Watsonville.
Debra Morris is the promotions coordinator for the Pacific Coast Farmers Association and writes the Time Is Ripe column. Contact her at email@example.com.
Recipe: Cherry Jam
2 cups pitted and coarsely chopped cherries
1 cup chopped blackberries
1 ½ cups peeled and chopped strawberries
2½ cups sugar
1 pack pectin, low or no sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup distilled water
Mix a quarter cup of sugar with a packet of “low or no sugar” pectin and set it aside. Place berries, juices and water in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the pectin-sugar mixture, mix well and bring to a boil again. Add the remaining sugar, stir, and bring the saucepan to a boil for one minute. You can check the readiness of the jelly using the cold spoon method (dip a spoon into the jam mixture and refrigerate for a minute or two).
Fill sterilized jam jars with the resulting mixture, wipe the edges of the jars, put lids and rings on them and twist. Place the jars in a boiling water bath and cook for 15 minutes. Cool the filled jars on the counter and listen for their lids to pop, which means they are closed. If you have any that haven’t sealed, you can store them in the refrigerator for later use.