Berry Time

On the left in the picture are domestic Jewel Black raspberries grown in my garden, and on the right wild blackberries, which I was pleasantly surprised to find growing in my back yard this year (we didn't bush-hog last year, and they bear on second-year canes). What's the difference, and what (besides devouring them while you pick them) are they good for?

The two are not the same; the easiest way to tell the difference is that raspberries have a hollow core and when you pick them they leave a white cone on the plant.  Blackberries are a solid cluster.  You can see that the raspberries are just a little bit more reddish than the blackberries.  Taste test wise, the raspberries are a little sweeter and the blackberries more tart. 

Both of these plants are ripening really early this year; usually the blackberries happen around the end of June/early July here in Tennessee, and the raspberries a few weeks earlier.  The winter was so mild that pretty much everything is coming early this year.  Both start out red and turn black.  You can tell the black raspberries are ripe because they pull off the plant pretty easily; if it gives you a lot of resistance, it's not ready.  To a lesser degree this is true for the blackberries as well.

The blackberries are juuuust starting to turn black, so if you know a spot where wild blackberries grow you might want to get out there in the next week or two.  If you want to make your goodies (whether preserves, or cobbler, or whatever) seedless, you'll need a food mill and someone with a good arm.  Recipe here.

For the black raspberries you'll most likely need to plant your own.  You can do so in the fall.  Pick a place where they can freely re-seed and in a few years you'll have plenty of berries.  If you're a want it now kind of person, I highly recommend checking your local farmer's market, or if you're in Tennessee try

Most of the black raspberry recipes I came across called for black raspberry jam or preserves, so you might have to whip up a batch of that.  It's worth it to make some of the awesome recipes I found though, besides the awesomeness of black raspberry jam on its own.  Here's an awesome summer cookout dessert.

Black Raspberry Cream Pie

1 9" graham cracker pie crust
1 egg white, beaten
1 cup whipping cream
8 oz cream cheese, softened
10 oz  black raspberry spread (seedless preferred)
fresh raspberries and mint leaves for garnish

Preheat oven 375 degrees.  Brush pie shell with egg white and bake 5 minutes.  Cool on rack.
In mixing bowl beat whipping cream with an electric mixer on medium-high until stiff peaks form.  Set aside.  In another bowl beat cream cheese until smooth.  Beat in raspberry spread on low speed just until combined.  Fold in whipped cream.  Spoon into pie shell , cover and freeze 4-24 hours or until firm.  Garnish with raspberries and mint leaves.  Makes 8 servings.

If you've got the berries, try this with ice cream:

Triple Berry Crisp

1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries
1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
4 Tablespoons white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups butter

Preheat oven to 350.  Gently toss berries together in a bowl with the sugar.  Set aside.  In a separate bowl combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  press half of mixture into a 9 x 13 pan, cover with berries, then top with the other half of the mixture.  Bake in preheated oven 30 to 40 minutes or until bubbly and golden.

Trust me, you'll need the ice cream.  Yum.  If you don't have all of those berries, I'm sure it'd be just as good with only one or two of them.

And if you pick enough blackberries, you might want to try blackberry wine, which I'm hoping to do this year.

Here's an article on foraging for blackberries in case you don't know how to identify them.  My tips are:  be wary of poison ivy, ticks and chiggers ( the bugs are particularly bad this year), and expect to get some scratches (and purple fingers!).  If none of that's for you, again, you're likely to find some brave soul at the farmer's market who has gone to the trouble for you.

Made of Awesome

    I've wanted to be a part of a CSA for several years now.  The food is great.  This week (and it's early in the season) we got squash, zucchini, beets, kale, peas, cucumber, bread and killer awesome cookies, and more.  But for me it's only partly about the food.  For me it's just as important to be buying local, organic, responsibly and sustainably grown food.  It's about supporting someone local.  So, I'd have joined a CSA even if the people who were farming were only moderately awesome.

    That's not the case, though... my farmers, Roger and Mary Payne of Miracle Mountain Farms, convince me a little more every week that they're made of awesome.  Here's only one reason.

    When I dropped by the farm today and got my basket o' goodies, Mary asked me would I take some cushaw melon seeds and plant them, and save them, and share them for free?  Please?  Then she gave me a handout all about this unusual melon from Slow Food's Ark of Taste website. 

    So what is Ark of Taste?  According to their website:

     "The Ark of Taste travels the world collecting small-scale quality productions threatened by industrial agriculture, environmental degradation and homogenization.
      The Ark of Taste searches out, catalogues and describes forgotten flavors from all around the planet: products at risk of extinction but surviving, that could be rediscovered and returned to the market."

     Basically, monoculture is destroying our food heritage.  There are four or five varieties of tomatoes in your average supermarket - the ones that have the best shelf life, NOT the ones that taste the best or anything that is prized for any other quality (although, heirloom varieties are finding their way into some supermarkets, thankfully).  So there are strains of long-cherished varieties of plants that are vanishing.  Ark of Taste - and Miracle Mountain Farms - seek to preserve them, share them.  And urge you to grow them.

     The Paynes are all about building community, preserving our heritage, through food and agriculture, and they are doing SO MUCH in that vein.  You should look them up on Facebook, and if you're local, definitely pay them a visit either at their farm or Cookeville Farmer's Market on weekends.  Because they're made of awesome.

   And, by the way, I will be planting some cushaw melons in my little garden this year, along with mostly heirloom varieties of tons of other veggies.  

    I would really like to see more of a Slow Food movement in this area, and I'm willing to spearhead it if there's enough interest.  To that end I'm hoping to 1) Start a little local food newsletter and 2) Maybe eventually open a Slow Food chapter here.  So if you're interested in being a part of that, do drop me a line at 

    "Ask not what you can do for your country.  Ask what's for lunch."  -- Orson Welles