Picking your own berries this summer is not only economical, it’s also healthy and good family fun.
Story by Jennifer D. Coalwell
Berry-picking season in the Umpqua Valley kicks off in late spring with red-ripe, sun-sweetened strawberries and winds down in September with the last of the sweet/tart, finger-staining blackberries.
In between — from June through August — raspberries, cherries, blueberries, loganberries, marionberries and boysenberries come on in overlapping waves.
Whether you eat berries by the handful or turn them into jams, jellies, pies, crisps or cobblers, picking your own is an enjoyable and economical way to stock up. A few hours of sweat equity at the field or farm will make you rich in the kitchen. And better for the experience.
Local berries and cherries are grown for their superb flavor rather than shelf life.
“Picking your own is as fresh as it gets,” says John Malone, dedicated picker of strawberries and cherries. “I make it a point to tell the farmer how much I appreciate the opportunity.”
Ed and Sharon Richardson of Big Bend Berries have been cultivating blueberries at their Garden Valley patch for nearly 30 years. They grow exclusively for u-pickers.
“Our customers become our friends and we look forward to their return each year,” says Sharon.
For Katrina Sanders, whose seven children range in age from 16 to 3, u-picking is a family outing.
“We love to take the whole family to pick,” she says. “It’s not only great quality time together, but also wonderful for teaching about different fruits; how they grow, how to store and how to cook with them.”
When Janet Catalano moved to Roseburg from Las Vegas six years ago, she had no idea picking berries would become a cherished summer ritual. Last year, she picked and packed more than 120 pounds of blueberries and strawberries, filling her freezer to capacity.
“I spread the picking over several weeks until I reach my quota,” says Catalano. “Not only is it superb summertime fun, I believe it helps me stay healthy by using berries in my smoothies all winter long.”
She’s right, of course. Loaded with fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, berries are bite-sized nutritional powerhouses. In his New York Times bestseller How Not to Die, Dr. Michael Greger recommends eating a half-cup of fresh or frozen berries daily.
PRESERVING YOUR PICKS
The passing of the berry and cherry seasons does not mean you must do without. Freezing is a fast and easy way to preserve your harvest for year- round enjoyment. By flash-freezing berries before packaging, you can remove just the amount you need whenever you want it.
Strawberries: Rinse in cool water and drain well. Remove green hulls. If desired, slice large berries in halves or quarters (for easier blending later) and spread out in a single layer on shallow pans or cookie sheets. Freeze until firm, then store in heavy-duty plastic bags, squeezing out as much air as possible.
Raspberries, blackberries and other cane berries: No stems or hulls to remove. Rinse, flash- freeze and package as for strawberries.
Cherries: Rinse cherries, remove stems and pits. An inexpensive plunger-type pitter works well. Flash- freeze and package as for berries.
Blueberries: Remove any green stems and freeze in plastic bags without rinsing (rinsing before freezing toughens the skins.) No need to flash-freeze first, as they do not stick together. When ready to use, give them a quick rinse in a colander, if desired.
A VERY BERRY CRISP
Lightly sweetened berries under a blanket of oats and nuts. This recipe works well using one type of berry or several.
5 cups fresh or frozen berries (slice strawberries, if using)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
a pinch of salt
1/3 cup coarsely chopped nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans)
1/3 cup rolled oats, regular or quick
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 6-cup baking dish or 8x8-inch pan with oil and set aside.
Fruit filling: Stir the sugar and flour together in a medium bowl. Add the berries and lemon juice and mix thoroughly. Spoon into the prepared pan.
Topping: Combine all the dry ingredients in the same bowl used for the berries. Stir in the melted butter until a crumbly mixture forms. Sprinkle all over the fruit.
Bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes, until topping is golden brown and juices are bubbling. Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.
WHERE TO PICK
A guide to u-pick farms in the Umpqua Valley.
Haven Blueberry Farm
10246 Tyee Road Umpqua
Kruse Farms Market, Bakery & Gift Shop
532 Melrose Road, Roseburg
123 Red Fox Lane, Sutherlin
Lee’s Farm Market
625 Dillard Gardens Road, Winston
Norm Lehne Garden & Orchards
386 Cleveland Rapids Road,Roseburg
1692 Curry Road,Roseburg
Valadez Organic Produce
219 Market Lane, Myrtle Creek
The Berry Patch
6271 Old Melrose Road, Roseburg
Big Bend Berries
458 Big Bend Road, Roseburg
Big Lick Farm
942 Winston Section Road, Winston
Brosi’s Sugartree Farms 540 Winston Section Road, Winston
DelEv’s Blueberry Patch
7062 S. MyrtleRoad Myrtle Creek
6680 Highway 38, Drain
342 Shady Drive, Roseburg