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Western berries...the bounty begins.

Western berries . . . the bounty begins

Prepare your palates! This month and next, the parade of berries that punctuates Western summars will be underway. First come some of the sweetest, juiciest strawberries of the year.

By mid-May, the first raspberries will be ripe. These deep red Willamettes set the standard for raspberry flavor. Later in the month big, tart Boysens, tangy-sweet Olallies, and sour, red Logans will be ready for picking.

To begin the new season, here's our guide to selecting the best berries in today's markets. And so you won't miss any of your favorites, we alert you to harvest seasons--brief for some varieties.

To help you savor this bounty of flavors, we offer some showstopper desserts and a relish. Recipes begin on page 226.

Among the most fragile of fruits, berries are nearly all hand-picked. They're collected into trays in the fields and often hauled every few hours to cooling plants, where the temperature is quickly reduced to about 33|. Most fresh barries are transported to markets in refrigerated trucks.

Watsonville, on the central California coast, is the major production and shipping center for that state. Berries thrive in the area, so growers can ship mixed loads of strawberries, raspberries, and black-berries from late spring through summer.

Because growing conditions in the Northwest make berries more perishable, those sold fresh are usually shipped out-of-state by air.

Strawberries

California grows more than 70 percent of the country's fresh strawberries. Picking starts in Orange and San Diego counties in January and moves north into Ventura County as weather warms. By April, the Watsonville area is also producing.

Typically, a surge in volume begins about mid-April, and prices are lowest in May. Fewer berries are harvested midsummer; volume picks up a little from late August into September, then drops way down. From November through January, berries from Florida, Mexico, and New Zealand supplement the few harvested here.

Our market strawberries all evolved from five varieties developed at the University of California and introduced in 1945. University and private breeding programs have since turned out hundreds of their offspring. Most growers put in new plants each year. A new generation of varieties is introduced every four to five years.

Varieties differ slightly in color, shape, size, and flavor. Of those widely grown today, Chandler, Pajaro, and Douglas (an early variety grown mainly in Southern California) have outstanding flavor. Chandlers are excellent for freezing and preserving. Berry quality depends largely on hardiness of the plants, how well they grew, and the season. For best flavor, strawberries need sunny days; cool nights and warm days are ideal.

There's no relationship between size and flavor, but California berries are bred to be large, so small, misshapen berries probably grew poorly. The long-stemmed berries found in fancy markets are not a special variety; usually one picker goes ahead to select and cut big shapely ones.

Northwest-grown berries are very juicy, sweet, and full of flavor, but too perishable to travel far. They are grown mainly for freezing and processing into other products. From early June through July, some are sold in markets and roadside stands in western Oregon and Washington. The Hood variety has premium fresh flavor.

When shopping, select plump berries with rich, red color and natural shine; caps should be bright green and fresh-looking. Berries don't ripen after picking.

Fraises des Bois

Of European origin, these tiny berries are grown on a small scale in California. Both red and white varieties are very fragrant, with mild flavor and slightly crunchy seeds. Fancy restaurants and markets in Los Angeles and San Francisco occasionally sell them from May through October. They are very perishable.

Raspberries

Red rasphberries are of two types: early- and late-bearing. Dark red California Willamettes start the season about mid-May and last through June. California's main crop is from late bearers, such as Heritage. These large, sturdy, mild berries are available from mid-July to December; the season peaks about mid-August through September.

The West's main growing areas are Santa Cruz and Sonoma counties in California; the Willamette Valley in Oregon; and Skagit, Whatcom, and Puyallup valleys in Washington. Most California berries are shipped to market in refrigerated trucks.

In the Northwest, early-bearing Meekers are the most widely sold. Their season runs from mid- to late June through July. The few late-bearing varieties ripen in mid-August and last until frost.

Compared to California berries, those grown in the Northwest are softer and juicier, and the bulk of them, including most Willamettes, are frozen or preserved. However, strong demand for fresh berries is encouraging more growers to sell them that way. To make sure berries arrive in good condition, they are usually picked in early morning and delivered to an airport before noon.

Black raspberries (also called blackcaps) grow mostly in Oregon; they're small and seedy with a distinctive, mild-tart taste. Watch for them from about July 1 to 20.

The purple raspberry is a hybrid of red and black varieties. The gold raspberry is a novel variation of the red. Increased plantings should result in a few more of the gold ones this year; they're a little sweeter and milder than red varieties.

Raspberries are the only cane berries that come free of their cores when picked, and they're the most fragile of all. When selecting them, look for plump, well-shaped berries that appear fresh and free of bruises or mold. Stained baskets indicate overripe, soft berries.

Blackberries

Except for Logans, which are red, black-berries range in color from dark maroon to glossy black. They may look similar, but their eating qualities are different, so it's important to recognize which is which.

Good-quality berries are plump; they have full color for the variety and bright, clean appearance. Overripe berries are soft, dull in color, and often leaky.

Boysen. Big, deep maroon, very tart, and aromatic, these berries make great pies. When sweetened, they're delicious with yogurt or ice cream. One of the few black-berries that grow well in warm climates, Boysens originated in Southern California, but the San Joaquin Valley is now the main California growing area. Picking begins there in early June and ends around July 4, when Oregon's harvest starts; its season ends about August 10.

Cherokee. When fully ripe, these large, sturdy, glossy black berries have smooth, mellow taste. They're sweet enough to eat alone; for pies they're best combined with tarter berries. They're not widely grown, but some are produced in both Oregon and California. They bear lightly in California over a season that stretches from late May through October. In Oregon the season is mid-July through August.

Evergreen. This order Northwest variety has medium-size, glossy black berries. Mild in flavor with little tartness, like Cherokee berries, they are best paired with tarter berries for pies. For eating fresh, you can enliven their flavor by adding a squeeze of lemon juice and sugar to taste. They ripen late in the season, about mid-August to mid-September.

Logan. Oregon supplies most of these very tart red berries; a few grow near Watsonville. Combine them with sweeter or milder berries for pies or use for jam or juice. They're in season in California from about mid-May through June, in Oregon from about June 20 to July 10.

Marion. The medium-size, slightly elongated berries are rather soft for shipping. However, they have outstanding flavor-- rich and tangy-sweet. Marions freeze well and make excellent pies and preserves. They're grown in Oregon, where the season is usually mid-July to mid-August.

Olallie. Berries are medium to large, more slender than Boysens, with shiny black skin when fully ripe. Only well-ripened ones are sweet and full-flavored. Olallies were developed at Oregon State University, but most of today's berries grow in the Watsonville area. The season is from late May into early July.

Blueberries

Early in the season, beginning about mid-April, the blueberries in our markets come from the southern and eastern United States. From late June through September, Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia supply them.

The varieties differ slightly in size and flavor, and some ripen earlier or later than others. One called Jersey has especially lively tart flavor; it's an older variety with smaller berries than most newer ones; they ripen late--from late August into September.

Look for plump, firm blueberries. The baskets should be free of leaves and withered or reddish berries.

Gooseberries

A few growers in Oregon and California supply these crunchy, sour berries. They are ripe enough to use after turning from dark to light green, but when still quite firm. They make great pies and preserves. This year there will also be a few of a larger variety, Poorman; when fully ripe, they're sweet enough to eat unadorned. Gooseberry season is usually from early to late June.

Red currants

The tart, intensely flavored berries grow in small clusters or bunches. They are excellent for preserves and meat sauces. For jelly, select slightly underripe berries, which have more pectin. Oregon supplies almost all the currants in our markets, and it's a short season--from early July to early August. Berries should be firmly attached to the cluster stem.

Photo: Savor the delicate tenderness of juicy, sweet strawberries or tangy Boysens set off by creamy, smooth chantilly custard (recipe page 228)

Photo: Which berries today? In mid-July, shopper at San Jose market has many choices at peak ripeness

Photo: Strawberries

Fraises des Bois (red)

Fraises des Bois (white)

Pajaro

Heidi

Chandler

Photo: Blackberries

Boysen

Olallie

Logan

Marion

Cherokee

Photo: Raspberries

Willamette

Meeker

Heritage

Sweetbriar

Brandywine (purple)

Munger (black)

Photo: Gooseberries

Oregon Champion

Photo: Red currants

Cherry

Photo: Blueberries

Patriot

Earliblue

Bluetta

Photo: Compote of mixed berries in wine-spiked syrup contrasts refreshingly with ice cream (for recipes, turn to page 226)

Photo: Irresistible pastel pies blend berry purees with cream cheese and cream. Each recipe (on page 228) makes two 7 1/2-inch pies; choose any of the berry flavors

Photo: Tangy currants, poached and mellowed with orange flavors, make a zesty relish (see recipe on page 226). Use it to accent chicken; garnish with fresh currants and chives
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 1986
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