Valley farms have bumper crops of blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, more

The Fresno BeeMay 26, 2014 

Sweet, slightly tart and highly nutritious, berries are rolling into local farmers markets and fruit stands.

Berry fans will be happy to know that a mild winter has delivered a bountiful crop of blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries and olallieberries.

"The berries have loved this weather," said farmer Gayle Willems of Kingsburg, also known as the Berry Lady. "We have had a bumper crop."

Willems sells berries and jams at her farm store, 39771 Road 28 in Kingsburg and in Fresno at the Kaiser Permanente farmers market, 7300 N. Fresno St., on Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The demand for berries gets stronger every year, she says, as more consumers look for healthy foods. Berries are high in antioxidants and vitamin C. Others love berries for old-fashioned reasons, including making jams, jellies and pies.

Willems' Ruby boysenberries are especially sought after. The big berry, named after her mother, has a subtle sweetness and reddish color. Customers like to use it for jams, baking and snacking.

At Kaiser's farmers market recently, Sarah Davis, a Willems employee, had to reluctantly tell customers she was already out of boysenberries, but more would be on their way next week.

"People really like these berries and they wait for them every year," Davis says.

Customer, Shellie Bowman, bought several clamshells of berries and vowed to be back next Wednesday for more.

"This is one of those fruits that I can't get enough of," Bowman says. "They are healthy, sweet tasting and you can use them in so many ways."

Other berry sellers can be found throughout the Fresno area. If you are interested in picking your own, you can do that at the Rancho Notso Grande, 12th and Excelsior avenues in Hanford. The small farm has blueberries, blackberries, olallieberries, boysenberries and raspberries.

Farmer John Olivas said the berries are ripe and ready. Like other farmers, he has a bumper crop, especially olallieberries. The berry is growing in popularity and is a favorite of those who grew up on the Central Coast or in the Pacific Northwest.

To those unfamiliar with the berry, Olivas said it tastes like a slice of berry pie.

The farm is open Tuesday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or by appointment on Sunday or Monday. For more information, visit his Facebook page at Rancho Notso Grande.

At the Vineyard Farmers Market, Matt Willems Farms of Kingsburg and Mendoza Berry Farm from Watsonville sell several varieties of berries.

Farmers market shopper Dawn Eberlein is a regular buyer of berries. She likes them as a snack and for baking. One of her favorite recipes is for gluten-free and vegan lemon/blueberry muffins.

"They are so delicious," Eberlein says.

Other berry growers include:

Patty Rosendahl of Rosendahl Farms sells boysenberries at the River Park farmers market on Tuesdays from 5-9 p.m and Friday in Clovis at the farmers market in Old Town Clovis from 5:30-9 p.m.

Simonian Farms at Clovis and Jensen avenues has olallieberries, blackberries and boysenberries. Stacey Grote, operations manager, said the sought-after berries will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

Royal Dawn Berries is a fruit stand on 15958 East Rose Ave. in Kingsburg. The stand sells blackberries and blueberries and is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.

Berry Lady's fruit pizza

Makes 12 servings

For the crust:

11/2 cups flour

3/4 cup butter, softened

1/3 cup powdered sugar

For the filling:

8-ounce cube of cream cheese

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/2 of a regular size Cool Whip container

Juice of 1/2 lemon

For the topping:

4 cups of blackberries, blueberries or boysenberries

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

To make the crust:Combine in mixer until smooth. Press into standard-size pizza pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool.

To make the filling: Blend in mixer and spread on cooled crust.

To make the topping: Combine ingredients in a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave for 9-11 minutes, stirring at 3 minute intervals. Cool. Spread over cream cheese filling.

Cooking tips: You can prepare the ingredients the night before, refrigerate the filling and sauce, and assemble it before serving.

Blueberry lemon muffins

Makes approximately 12 large muffins

3 cups gluten free flour (Bobs Red Mill all purpose)

2 cups organic coconut sugar

2 teaspoon baking powder (aluminum free)

2 teaspoon pink Himalayan salt

1 cup fresh unsweetened strained almond milk

4 tablespoons lemon zest

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (Meyer preferred)

1 cup sprouted and chopped pecans

2/3 cup organic coconut oil

4 tablespoon organic Chia seeds mixed in 1 cup of water (egg substitute)

2 cups fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Apply coconut oil cooking spray to muffin pan. Combine all dry ingredients. Add and mix all wet ingredients to dry mixture. Fold in lemon zest and blueberries last. Pour mixture into greased muffin pan. Bake in preheated oven for 60-70 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes in pan then remove.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter. — Dawn Willems — Dawn Eberlein

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