It's time to satisfy your craving for big, juicy, sweet-tasting blackberries.
A cool and wet spring delayed the blackberry harvest by about two weeks. But with clear skies ahead and temperatures rising, Valley-grown blackberries are in abundant supply.
Blackberry fans can find their favorite berries at farmers markets, roadside stands and longtime fruit vendors like Simonian Farms at Jensen and Clovis avenues in Fresno.
"We just started picking and it's a good thing because people have been calling us for two weeks," says Dennis Simonian, of Simonian Farms.
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Simonian says the fruit's quality is good and he expects the season to extend at least into July.
Blackberry farmers in the Valley grow several varieties that ripen at different times of the season. Some farmers are even experimenting with shade structures to protect against sunburn. They want fruit to carry them into the hotter summer months.
In Kingsburg, Gayle Willems believes she's found a variety that has the right stuff: sweet, juicy and aromatic. She calls it Sweet Lady.
"This berry is really doing well," she says. "People are going home, eating them, and coming back for more the same day."
Willems promises to have plenty available for about three weeks. In Fresno, she sells at Kaiser Permanente Fresno's farmers market on Wednesdays and on the family ranch, Berry Lady Farms, 39771 Road 28, in Kingsburg.
When buying blackberries, look for fruit that has deep black color and a puffy look. It should also be somewhat firm. Store berries in the refrigerator for about a week.
Laurel Jackson, of Allen and Laurel Jackson Farms in Kingsburg, says she has seen a growing interest in Valley blackberries.
Many of her customers remember picking wild berries or eating their grandmother's berry cobbler.
"And then you have people who are just looking for fruit with real great flavor," says Jackson, who sells her berries at The Garden Market at Courthouse Park in downtown Fresno on Tuesdays.
Mixed berry almond crunch crumble
Makes 6 servings
For the filling:
8 cups mixed fresh berries: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries
1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca (optional)
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar, depending upon sweetness of berries
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
For the crumble topping:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To prepare filling, toss berries with tapioca (if using), sugar and lemon zest. (Without tapioca, crumble will be very runny.) Set aside.
To make topping, in a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugars, spices and salt. Stir in butter and almonds. Coarse crumbs will form.
Pour filling into a 9-inch square or round pan (do not grease first). Using your fingers, form topping mixture into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch crumbs and spread over cake. Bake until filling bubbles and topping is light golden, about 55 minutes. Let cool slightly. Serve.
-- Bee file recipe, New York Times
Blackberry cake with vanilla sauce
Makes 8 servings
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon blackberry jam
1 cup fresh or frozen sugar-free blackberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 9-inch springform pan and set aside.
In medium bowl, combine butter and 1 cup sugar. Cream together until well blended and fluffy. In a separate bowl, sift together flour and baking powder.
Add dry ingredients to butter mixture. Add eggs, extracts and jam and mix until well blended, approximately 2 minutes. The batter should be stiff.
Scrape batter into the prepared cake pan and spread the top smooth.
Scatter berries evenly over the batter and sprinkle the fruit with 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake on center rack of oven for 55-60 minutes or until cake begins to pull away from rim of pan. Run a thin-bladed knife between cake and rim.
Allow cake to cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan. Place on serving plate while making vanilla sauce.
For vanilla sauce: 2/3 cup butter, 2 cups firmly packed brown sugar, 1 1/2 cups half-and-half, 1 cup light corn syrup, 3 tablespoons vanilla extract.
In saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Stir in the sugar and mix well.
Add half-and-half and corn syrup and bring to a quick boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and cool to warm while stirring constantly.
Stir in vanilla. Serve warm with cake.
-- Bee file recipe
Sparkling fruit wine
Makes 12 servings
1 bottle (3 cups) gewurztraminer, chilled
2 cups peach nectar, chilled
2 limes cut into thin slices
2 peaches or nectarines, halved, pitted and cut into small wedges
2 plums, halved, pitted and cut into small wedges
1 cup blackberries
1 bottle (3 cups) chilled champagne or sparkling wine
Ice cubes (optional)
In a large pitcher, stir together the gewurztraminer and peach juice.
Reserve some lime slices for garnish and add the remaining lime slices, peach or nectarine wedges, plum wedges and blackberries to the pitcher.
Chill for 1 hour.
Just before serving, stir in the champagne or sparkling wine.
Add ice cubes, if desired. Pour into glasses, distributing some fruit into each glass.
Garnish with a slice of lime on the rim of each glass and serve well-chilled.
-- Bee file recipe, adapted from "Summer: Recipes Inspired by Nature's Bounty" by Joanne Weir