The Berry Patch

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By Jane Reid

The U-pick berry patch holds a special charm–a place where time stands still and the frenetic, noisy business of everyday life seems to fall away. The sun, a light breeze, occasional bird song or buzzing bees, and often, silence. Small children may be nearby, chattering in sing song voices as they throw bugs, twigs and unripe berries in their pails and their mothers do the real picking. Spending time in the U-pick berry patch is as good as therapy, but with a big plus—a wonderful take-home treat of fresh BC grown berries full of flavour. What could be better?

BC berry season is here…and the choices are delightful: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and with a little searching—tayberries, currants and other less common offerings. New varieties of old favourites mean that berry seasons are expanded and the bounty is there for the picking longer. Berries are big business in BC because our province is perfect for growing them—especially the Fraser Valley. For instance, BC is the world’s third largest producer of high bush, cultivated blueberries, and grows 95% of Canada’s crop.

Berry farms offering U-pick opportunities dot the Fraser Valley from Westham Island and Richmond in the west to Chilliwack in the east. Check out the FarmFresh guide to find out about locations and hours. It’s a good idea to phone ahead and find out what is on offer, if the picking is good that day, and what is available to buy ready-picked to top up the bounty.

To take full advantage of BC berry season, it is pays to get enough to eat fresh and to stock the freezer. Fresh berries need to be refrigerated, unwashed, immediately. (Hold on to those clear plastic ventilated berry clamshells and reuse them–they make excellent storage containers.) To freeze berries, simply sprinkle on cookie sheets, freeze, then bag. (If berries are not sprayed, no washing is necessary—otherwise, rinse and let dry before freezing.)  Many farms offer their berries ready-frozen for sale after the season ends–an even easier way to enjoy the local taste of summer sunshine throughout the year.

Freezer jams offer another way to enjoy delicious berries all year. Some freezer jams can be made with half the sugar (read packages carefully) and take mere minutes to make after berries are mashed. Jewel like in colour, these jams are more flavourful than traditional recipes and do not require stirring over a hot stove.

These days, fresh berries are more popular than ever–at breakfast with yoghurt or granola and at lunchtime in muffins and pastries or swirled into smoothies. For desserts, nothing beats a home-made berry pie, or to stretch the bounty further—apple pie with a sprinkling of blueberries—an unsurpassed combo. But one of the easiest and most delicious ways to enjoy berries as a dessert is to top the most sinfully rich lemon yoghurt available with fresh berries. Blueberries are particularly stellar when served this way. Instant no-fuss cheesecake that will have everyone asking for more!

Jane Reid, author of “Freshly Picked: A Locavore’s Love Affair with BC’s Bounty”, loves to spend time in the quiet and peaceful berry patch, picking strawberries, raspberries and blueberries to satisfy her family’s berry cravings.