Friday, July 27, 2007

Berries

It's a long fruit drought here in the spring. After the citrus-fruit rush in mid-winter, we go clear until June before we have any in-season fruits again. As much as I prefer fruits in season and, when possible, local, I'm reduced to buying bananas and frozen fruit once the store apples get mushy from storage. So rhubarb, although a stem instead of a fleshy seed-bearing case and therefore not technically not a fruit, is very welcome when it appears in late June; we bake crunch cakes and make rhubarb-ginger butter, then freeze what we can't eat . A few early-season strawberries are just teasers for the main event.

Then comes late July, and we have an explosion of cherries and berries. Cherries flow out of the Flathead Lake area, sweet-tart and juicy, perfect for pies and shakes. This year we got a 20# box and ate as many as we could; the rest we pitted and froze. (My son's recipe: 3 C pitted cherries and 2 C vanilla ice cream, blended together and drunk quickly before an older brother - or mom - steals it.) Strawberries and blueberries appear in the grocery store; you can tell they are in season because all the berries in the containers are good. But the fun berries are the ones we pick ourselves.

Our raspberry patch, which started as ten canes 15 years ago, took over the strawberry patch and then the entire vegetable garden, and now threatens to take over the back yard. As much as I treasure our thornless canes, the raspberries are weeds if watered; we mow and pull them out of flower gardens and lawns every summer. We got a pint or so of berries yesterday, and I'll need to send a kid out to pick again tomorrow. They are so precious that we just eat them fresh; I only make jam if I get a case commercially, or if we go too long without picking them and they are past their prime.

The kids have the most fun picking service berries, probably because the bushes have to be found first and because the kids pick from horseback; standing on a saddle to pick the high ones only adds to the fun (as long as the horse stands still). Service berries are a native plant, also called June berries, with seeds that taste like almonds. Treated like blueberries, they made a great pie for dessert last night (and an even better breakfast this morning).

Pie: Lay out a pie crust in a pie pan. Mix 4 C berries, 1/4 C flour for thickening, 1/8-1/4 C sugar, 1/4 C lemon juice, and 1-2 Tbs candied ginger in a bowl, and place in the crust. Add a top crust if you like (I usually don't because I would rather make a second pie with the dough than have one look perfect). Cook at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Let cool at least two hours so the filling thickens a little. If you have to hold it longer than 24 hours, make the crust and stick it in the freezer; mix the berries and refrigerate separately. Bake the day you will eat it; it will hold 24 hours at room temperature, but refrigerating it will make the crust heavy.

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