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Fork in the Road: The best summer treats come in berry small packages

Blueberries, raspberries and more all beat the August heat
FD berries
Pemberton farms have plenty of U-Pick berries available to enjoy now or all year.

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Well, still not quite normal, but pretty easy compared to this time last year. 

Even though we’re not totally out of the pandemic woods yet, it feels like we all need a break from anything heavy-duty, so here’s my best summer eating tip as you kick back and relax in the balm of long, lazy days without a lot to worry—as long as we all vax up with that friendly little jab.

BERRY GOOD IDEAS

If you’re looking for an easy-peasy treat these days—as in, who wants to cook, let alone eat, a big heavy dessert or a gut-busting snack?—look no further than your favourite neighbourhood berry grower. 

Despite heat domes and smoke-outs and record drought in berry country, those heroic local berries and their growers have come through! 

Farmers are smart—they don’t farm commercially unless they have a solid irrigation system, and Pemberton Valley farmers have had the blessing of a bit more precipitation than elsewhere in southern B.C. the past while, along with good underground water supplies for pumping plus the Lillooet River and tributaries, which actually delivered too much of a good thing with June’s wicked heat dome and the subsequent rapid snow melt. 

But drought records are collecting like dead flies elsewhere in berry country: The driest July on record for Chilliwack and Abbotsford, heart of berry farming. Nearly 50 days and counting with zero rainfall in Richmond/Delta farm country—slated to beat the record, set in 1951: Fifty-seven straight days of no rain on Canada’s Wet Coast.

But with all those new, adaptive berry hybrids; strawberry plants that start earlier or produce later; big juicy blueberries from the 600-plus growers near the mighty Fraser; the 14 varieties of commercial raspberries suited for all kinds of conditions (there’s even one named “Squamish”!)—my advice is to buy, buy, buy all the fresh berries you can right now. You won’t regret it. 

In Pemberton, fresh summer berries are peaking. Pick your own at North Arm Farm (their u-pick blueberries are full-on gorgeous right now). Organic blueberries at Hare’s Farm, or stock up at Plenty Wild Farms farm stand or the Squamish Farmers’ Market (every Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Cleveland Avenue until Oct. 30). Lots more berries are for the pickin’ at the Pemberton Farmers’ Market, every Friday 3 to 6:30 p.m. until Oct. 29, under the “big roof” at the Downtown Community Barn in beautiful downtown Pemberton—where else? (Gorgeous strawberries there last market.) And, of course, check out Whistler Farmers’ Market every Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Oct. 10, now at the new location at the Whistler Racket Club.

For a full list of farmers’ markets throughout B.C., visit the BC Farmer’s Market Association. And please remember—your mask will protect all those hard-working vendors and farmers plus your neighbours enjoying the market.  

THE COOLEST TIP FOR ENJOYING THOSE BERRIES

Don’t worry about gobbling up your berries or cooking them into sauce or dessert before they moulder. Here’s the smartest tip ever—freeze them! 

Pick through your box of berries and discard any unwanteds. Whatever you do, don’t wash them before you freeze them. Just spread your berries on a cookie sheet or whatever big flat pan or tray you have and pop them into your freezer. They freeze nicely overnight when no one is up poking around to send them rolling.

Once they’re frozen solid, bag them up or fill one of those many plastic take-out containers with lids we’re all drowning in right now, and you’ll have the quickest, easiest taste of summer anytime. Just remember to wash them before you eat them. 

I grabbed a couple of big frozen strawberries the other day and bit into a little piece of heaven for a cool snack. With zero added sugar. 

Try adding a couple of frozen berries to your usual summer desserts—the traditional dollop of ice cream, the nice little bowl of early summer-apple sauce, or rhubarb sauce. (For any easy fruit sauce, use the old prairie formula of 1-2-3: One cup sugar, although I usually use much less, depending on the fruit maybe as little as a quarter cup; two cups water; three cups rhubarb or whatever fruit you’re using.) The frozen berries add an unexpected zip of texture and temperature. 

Leave the little green leaves on the tops of your strawberries when you freeze them. (They’re called the calyx, BTW. The stem is actually called a peduncle, and the name “strawberry” was probably originally “strewn berry,” no doubt for all those little runners scattered along the ground). You’ll spark your visual presentation up a notch with that dash of green, plus they make a perfect handle for munching.  

Another great tip, especially for frozen blueberries, but any berries will do, including wild berries ripening this time of year—luscious blackberries; thimbleberries and salmonberries (if you’re lucky you might still find some in the shade); and huckleberries. 

Grab some maple syrup. Throw in a handful of frozen berries. Heat it up in the microwave or on the stovetop and pour it over, well, anything. Pancakes or French toast are the obvious choice, but I love it over yogurt. Good for your taste buds and your health anytime.  

As for those “Squamish” raspberries, they’re easy to harvest by hand for the fresh market, resistant to aphids and the plants are pretty resistant to root rot. Sounds like a stalwart Sea to Sky winner to me.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist whose grandad was famous for his strawberries, raspberries and red currants.