Thursday, September 4, 2008

Berry Delicious

B, a cousin of my better half C visited us for a weekend and it was decided that we had to enjoy the Bay area weather by spending the day’s outdoors. For one of the days we planned on a picnic ~ the venue selected was Ano Nuevo Park, on the scenic Hwy1 along the beautiful Pacific Coast (a favorite of my son KD - who enjoys watching the 2-3 ton Northern Elephant seals). Along the way we decide to pick berries in the Atascadero area.

Olallieberry is an unusual berry - it is a cross between the loganberry and youngberry which further is a cross between the Raspberry and Blackberry…..complicated I know! I had read about this strangely named berry (apparently it’s a native Chinook word for berry) over a decade ago in a newspaper while at school in New Haven, CT and wondered what it would taste like???

Flash forward, Year 2008 – Berry picking at a U Pick farmette called Phipps Country Store, which just happened to have some Olallie’s ripe for the picking. These berries are said to have one of the shortest optimal-picking time for any fruit ~ just six weeks of plucking potential.

So packed in the car, B, Uncle J and Aunty L (also fellow foodies), we headed out with a few yummy goodies of our own! We finally reach the farm after a very long and winding drive and descended upon the farm with all our gear ~ you know hats, plenty of sunscreen, bug spray, bottles of water…yeah right!!!!!! Armed with just a basket each, for the pickings and incredible curiosity I headed out as fast as I could into the fields. I was barely paying attention to the lady who was instructing us on how to pick the ripest, sweetest berries. I figured if I pop a berry or two in my mouth I’ll figure it out… outta my way! As we scrambled past the hen house…Cousin B was nauseated by the stench of the poultry droppings…me, I was just excited to finally see rows and rows of the berry vines.

As the first one from our group on the field I picked the plumpest juiciest dark purplish hued berries and against the advice of my better half C- to rinse the fruit before ingesting, I excitedly thrust it into my already open mouth and squeezed the fruit between my tongue and palette to release the sweet treacle that was mildly tingling with a slightly tart after taste that made you want to pucker. The taste was very similar to that of raspberries and blackberries when eaten together.

Berry picking was a thoroughly enjoyable activity. All I can say is that I tasted more than what was picked….as I had to ascertain at which level of firmness and ripeness the berries tasted best….an earnest experiment for you my readers!

So in conclusion after eating several pints of berries I can safely attest that the berries that had the sweetest flavor were the;
a. Berries that had the darkest hue- almost a dark blackish purple shade, and
b. Ripe berries picked from vines that are almost dried out.

With my left over pint packed in a bag along with some other goodies from the store (more on the lentils soup mix I purchased at the store, later) we headed out to see the awe-inspiring Elephant seals that were in the process of molting their fur on the silver sands of the Pacific coastline.

Now to a recipe using my berry loot…….Berry Syrup!
1 Cup of berries (any variety)
½ Cup of fine white sugar (if berries are tart use ¾ of a cup of sugar)

Place berries in a non-reactive saucepan (stainless steel/pyrex/non stick) and pour room temperature water just until it covers the tops of the berries. Bring this to a boil and turn off the heat and allow mixture to cool. Blend this mixture and strain through a sieve for uniform smooth sauce and discard the leftover pulp. Place the strained mixture back in the saucepan and add sugar, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add extra water depending on how thick or thin you would like the syrup to be.

I like my syrup to be a bit on the thick side as I use it as a flavoring for salad dressings and berry flavored cocktails. When I use it as a cocktail syrup I like to add a teaspoon or two of brandy (Kirsch, Schnapps, Cassis) for every cup of fruit used to give it an added dimension in flavor.
The uses for this basic syrup are endless, and my favorites are:

Berry Vinaigrette
¾ cup berry syrup
½ cup olive oil
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
salt to taste

Combine all the ingredients and blend until smooth and silky in texture. Pour the dressing on your favorite greens and enjoy. I like it with a frisee or baby greens.

Researchers say that by adding alcohol to berries boosts the amount of antioxidants in the fruit that can be absorbed by our bodies…so here is a recipe for a “healthy” drink.

Healthy Vodka Drink
1 cup mixed berries
½ cup berry syrup
1 Cup ice cubes/crushed cubes
1 oz. Vodka
1 tsp chopped mint
Whole berries/mint sprig for decoration

Method I
Whip all the ingredients in a blender and pour into your favorite wine glass. Decorate with a sprig of mint.

Method II
Muddle the berries in a cocktail shaker and add crushed ice, syrup, vodka and chopped mint. Stir vigorously and strain into a chilled lowball glass filled with more crushed ice. Decorate with a sprig of mint or some berries skewered on your favorite cocktail pick.

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