Summer-style heat is bringing on some luscious berries just in time to complement the sweet peaches and nectarines that are covering the farmers’ tables at markets throughout the Southland. In addition to the multiple varieties of blueberries that have been in season for several weeks now, you can find half-pint baskets of several varieties of blackberries. Pudwill Berry Farm was sporting three-packs of blackberries this week – huge Boysenberries, medium sized Kiowa berries and smaller, dark purple Marion berries – three berries with unique characteristics worthy of sampling.
Blackberries are deserving of a special kind of love. They grow in thorny tangles and thrive in inhospitably hot weather. Although farmers have managed to tame them somewhat with trellises and raised beds, the heat and low-growing nature of these sweet droplets of summer’s essence are notoriously difficult to harvest. Berry pickers have permanently stained fingers all summer long, and even the home consumer will get some purple fingertips before the day is done, but the flavor and character of these diminutive fruits is well worth the inconvenience.
Blackberries are highly perishable and should be eaten soon after purchase. They will last a little longer if they are refrigerated, unwashed and loosely wrapped in plastic. Berries make a wonderful no-bake summer pie. All you need is a few cups of ripe fruit in a pre-cooked pie shell, and pour over that a mixture of berries that have been simmered in sugar. Top with some sort of cream concoction and eat hot or cold. Berries also pair delightfully with many of the summer peaches and nectarines. They add tang and visual appeal to pies, cobblers and compotes.
Also making an appearance in the early summer heat is the first warm pepper of the season – the dark green, pointy Ancho. This is a lovely, medium-hot, thin-walled pepper that is excellent for chile rellenos. It can also be roasted and eaten in salsa, or chopped up raw and added to guacamole. Grilled peppers add a wonderful fragrance to the kitchen or barbeque. Simply place the whole pepper on top of a gas burner, turning frequently as the flesh blackens, then cool, peel off the thin skin, chop and serve.