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Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.

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Berry farming

In hysterics…the ultimate raspberry

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Not considered the most beautiful plant for most of the year…for one brief month this ugly duckling is a swan.

Christmas excited, our first Carpe Diem berry farm raspberries are ready for picking. Not even exaggerating here…I get into things. Pyjama-clad I head into the patch with my coffee, weigh scale and pint baskets and am in an early morning heaven. It’s just me and the birds… Any marred berries I eat. (Stream of consciousness: “When the harvest really gets going will I be like the I Love Lucy chocolate assembly line scene and come in dripping in horror-movie red juice? Ah, maybe I’ll make jam…”)

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Pints destined for The Bench Market.

Day two. Same excitement. Pyjamas, coffee, scale, baskets and RAIN. Now I know I’m a farmer. Rows of perfectly ripe berries and it’s pouring. Sure, you can pick in the rain but it doesn’t do the berries any favours. Their already short shelf life is shortened more by moisture.

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Dripping in rain.

While waiting for a dry spell to get back outside, I browse through MyNaramata, our communities top-notch, on-line, hyper-local source of news and read about the cherry growers and their real issues with rain while listening to the sound of an Apocalypse Now number of helicopters outside my window.

“In the last three weeks before cherry harvest, it is important to keep the cherries as dry as possible to prevent splitting,” the article says. “Rain collects in the well on the top of the cherry, is absorbed into the cherry causing it to swell and skin to split. Enter the helicopters which hover to blow the water off.”

As The Handyman and I share a similar quirky sense of humour he is immediately game for a photo session with our raspberries and his remote-controlled helicopter. I send the photos to MyNaramata as a Photo Friday submission.

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Blowing the rain off the raspberries.

 

IMG_0207Snickering and general joviality all round.

MyNaramata publishes my photo. The editor has a laugh.

Early Saturday morning the phone rings.

“Hi, my name is Mark and I have a question about the helicopter you used to dry your raspberries.”

“Sure, I’ll pass you on to the pilot…”

“The pilot is there? Great, that’s fantastic.”

(“Hey Maverick, the phone is for you. There is a guy who has a question about your helicopter…”)

“Hi, I want to know what helicopter you have there. I was looking at a double rotor one like that in New Zealand but it’s priced at over $200,000. What is the make of yours? Where did you get it? How much was it?”

“Mmmmm,” says Maverick politely but grinning madly. “Not sure if you’ve looked at that photo closely but it is a remote-controlled helicopter we were using there as kind of a joke.”

“(Big pause)…(laughter)….Oh my God (laughter), you’re right. Wow, you got me. (Laughter).”

In the meantime, I’m overhearing the discussion and am doubled over in hysterics…eyes streaming, the biggest uncontrolled yet stifled laughter of the year. I’m trying not to be audible as I don’t know if the guy is dying of embarrassment or not. Turns out it he is a good sport and enjoyed the joke himself. The photo was really small and he was fixated on the rotors without clueing in to the scale problems.

He owns a two-seater helicopter himself and has an interesting story I want to blog about… if he’ll let me…

 

 

Gwen Chiffani strawberry shortcake

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Just like Gwen, this cake’s got a little twist

It’s strawberry time in the Valley and this cake is a celebration of just-picked, ripe, red berries smothered in a basil-infused whipped cream slathered between the lightest, fluffiest chiffon sponge cake you will ever baked. I don’t even feel like I’ve oversold it.

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I’ve never used grapeseed oil in a cake before and was skeptical. Colour me wrong. I knew as soon as the batter started to come together that it would be super light and produce a wonderful sponge and it’s wine country here. What a perfect use for a by-product…

Chiffon cake ingredients

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 8 large egg whites (from my neighbour Lucy’s chickens)
  • 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 350F and grease and line the bottoms of two 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the oil and 1 1/4 cups of the sugar on medium speed for one minute. Add the vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time and mix for about three minutes. The mixture will increase in volume (I told you) and be pale in colour. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk. Mix on medium for no more than 30 seconds after the last streaks of dry ingredients are combined. Pour the batter into a large bowl and set aside.

Clean the mixer bowl and paddle and dry well. In the clean bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy. Add the remaining two tablespoons of sugar and the cream of tartar and whisk on high until stiff peaks form.

Stop the mixer and fold the egg whites into the cake better. Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 25 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Let them rest on a wire rack until cool before running a paring knife around the edges of the cakes and removing them from their pans.

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The basil-infused whipping cream gives the cake an extra something. The basil flavour pairs beautifully with strawberries. The Handyman, whose heart is only really moved by chocolate, says he would have skipped this whole basil step but my other food critics disagreed. I feel Gwen Stefani would be cool with it too.

Basil-infused whipped cream ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Slowly heat 2 cups of the cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until it begins to simmer. Meanwhile, gently muddle the basil leaves with mortar and pestle (or crush them up a bit with your hands if you are short of kitchen equipment.)

Once the cream begins to steam and simmer, remove the pan from the heat and add the basil leaves, cover and let them steep for 30 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a container and refrigerate until cold.

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Strain out the basil leaves, re-measure the cream and top it off with more cream if necessary so you have a total of 2 cups. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk, whisk the cream on medium speed until it begins to thicken. Add the sugar and vanilla and whisk on high until it forms medium peaks. For best results, store the whipped cream in the fridge and assemble the cake just before serving.

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Some assembly required

  • Four cups fresh strawberries

With the assistance of my son’s lovely fiancé, the cake was easy to assemble. Hull and slice the fresh strawberries 1/4 inch thick until you have about four cups of sliced berries. Reserve a few whole berries with their tops on for decoration.

Once the cakes have cooled completely, carefully halve them horizontally to create four even layers. Level the cakes and choose which layer will be the bottom. Place it on a cake plate and spread on one-quarter of the basil-infused whipped cream and one cup of the berries.

IMG_2421Top with the next layer of cake and repeat. Place the reserved strawberries on top of the last layer to decorate.

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Eat your Gwen Chiffani immediately or keep refrigerated for up to two days.

This recipe, with some re-branding, came from Layered by Tessa Huff, a fellow British Columbian. My new mission in life is to make every single cake in this amazing cook book.

Banishing blueberry eating birds to make blueberry tarts

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Blueberry tart wouldn’t be possible without good bird netting.

The birds know a good thing when they see it. The very minute blueberries are ripe and ready to eat they are on it. If you want to find your thrill on blueberry hill you need some pre-planning. Our berries in our first producing patch are just blueing up nicely so it’s time for The Handyman to work his magic.

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The Handyman used 3/4″ PVC with some t-joints and PVC glue to make the structure, spending about $50 on materials. He measured the width of the blueberry bed and the height. Our box was 8 feet wide and he used two 10-foot sections of PVC to give us a 7-foot clearance at the apex of the hoop. He says you could also add some rebar inside the PVC to make the structure sturdier which he plans to do in the future when we enclose the much larger commercial patch for the berry farm. If you need to make the structure more freestanding, ie. you don’t have a wooden box as your bed to staple the PVC too, you will need to insert a section of rebar into the ends of the PVC to allow you to dig the PVC into the ground. The bird netting was a lucky drive-by find found at the side of the road with a “free” sign on it. Of course, you can purchase netting…

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We heaped lovely soil with lots of peat moss into this raised box and I top with a mulch of pine needles to keep these acid-loving berries happy.
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Here is a side view…we have left one end up so the bees can finish up their last bit of pollination for us. We will secure this opening when the berries are ripe and weigh down the bottom with a few rocks we can remove to lift the flap when harvesting.
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Here is a look at the roof structure. The nets are secured with zip ties.
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Blueberries are safe as houses from the birds but easily accessible for picking.
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Jacquy Pfieiffer’s blueberry tart is a pretty good pay-back for The Handyman’s work.

Blueberry Tart

Day one:

Sweet Dough (makes enough for two 9-inch crusts)

  • 168 grams or 6 ounces of unsalted butter
  • 1.4 grams or 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 112 grams or 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 39 grams or 1/3 cup of almond flour
  • 7 grams or 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 extra large egg plus 1 to 2 teaspoons
  • 315 grams or 2 7/8 cup sifted cake flour

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream the butter and sea salt on medium speed for about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and add the confectioners’ sugar and combine with the butter at low speed. Scrape down the bowl and then add almond flour and vanilla and combine at low speed. Add the eggs, one at a time and about a quarter of the cake flour and beat on low until just incorporated. Stop the machine and scrape down the bowl. Gradually add the remaining flour and mix just until the dough comes together. Don’t over mix. Press the dough into a 1/2″ thick rectangle block, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight or for at least two to three hours.

You could also make the streusel (see below) on day one and or the blueberry filling and refrigerate until ready to assemble and bake.

Day two:

After it has chilled, remove the dough from the refrigerator, cut it into two equal portions and roll one out in a 1/4 ” thick circle and line a 9-inch tart pan, ring, or heart.

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Using a fork, perforate the bottom of the shell making rows of little holes. Place in the refrigerator uncovered for at least an hour. (Freeze the second portion of dough for a future use). Pre-bake the shell in a 325F oven. To do this, line the shell with parchment and add rice, dried beans or pie weights. Bake with this “faux” filling for 15 minutes and then remove the parchment and rice, beans or weights and return the tart shell to the oven for another 5 to 15 minutes until it is golden brown and evenly coloured. Brush with an egg wash (1 beaten egg with 1 tablespoon of water) and return to the oven for five more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before filling.

Blueberry filling

  • 280 grams or 2 1/4 cups blueberries. If using frozen, choose wild blueberries
  • 51.5 grams or 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 grams or 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 grams or 1 1/4 teaspoons water
  • 2.5 grams or 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 a vanilla bean
  • 36 grams or 2 yolks plus 1 teaspoon egg yolks
  • 56 grams or 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 56 grams or 1/4 cup heavy cream

 

In a medium saucepan, combine the blueberries and 1 teaspoon of the sugar and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and boil for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice, water and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Gradually stir the mixture into the berries and simmer 1 minute until thickened. If the mixture is too watery, dissolve another 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch into a tablespoon of juice and stir in. Simmer until thickened and then remove from heat.

Using a knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into a medium bowl. Add the egg yolk and remaining sugar and beat together with a whisk. Add the milk and cream and beat together until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the blueberries.

Streusel

  • 60 grams or 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 88 grams or 1/3 cup turbinado sugar
  • 70 grams or 1/2 cup of cake flour
  • 70 grams or 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1 gram or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 13 grams or 1 tablespoon Kirschwasser

(This will make more than you need. You can freeze the leftovers and use to make fruit crumbles or top muffins.)

Preheat oven to 325 F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Cut the butter into cubes and place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer and mix on medium for about 2 minutes until crumbly.

Spread on the parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden brown and crisp. Allow to cool.

Assembly

Sprinkle 17 grams or 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of the streusel in an even layer on the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell. Spread the blueberries on top. Place on a sheet pan and bake 30 to 40 minutes until just set. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

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Sorry birds

 

 

 

 

 

 

Must love bees: It takes hundreds to make berry tarts

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Our raspberry farm is abuzz today.

Each raspberry “flower” has many stamens and styles, each attached to a carpel with two ovules. Because the small individual flowers on each receptacle open over an extended period, bees must visit each plant several times to ensure that enough individual flowers are pollinated to make enough fruit for us to sell.

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We are relying on wild bees to do the work for us.
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The flowers are kind of pretty close-up

We are talking 100 to 125 pistils, per raspberry to which pollen must be transferred to create a mature seed and the tasty red druplet surrounding the seed. If each and every one of these druplets is not pollinated, the overall integrity of the fruit is compromised and the fruit will be misshapen and crumbly.

I feel like I should be bringing out pitchers of iced tea for them or offering them tiny, careful massages.

Some of the many variety of bees I spotted include honey, bumble, carpenter, cuckoo, digger, mason, yellow-faced and mining bees. I would just get them in focus and they would be off before I could capture their photo. These few photos in the post were among about 100 of blurred or vanished bees. They are busy right?

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You can tell that this guy is a honey bee as you can see the pollen basket on its hind leg (white). The bee moistens the pollen with nectar and packs it in the pollen basket for transport.

During this time of the year it’s important not to water the raspberries too much as the nectar will drip off the immature berry and the pollinators won’t be attracted to them. Pesticides are a concern too but not for us and we don’t use them on our organic berries. Even it the pesticide is not toxic to bees, they often repel them.

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Encore raspberries.
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We made mason bee houses at a recent Naramata Garden Club meeting. I plan on making more to give the little guys a reason to stick around and help us out.

There are so many recipes that use berries made possible by the work of all those bees. Here’s an easy one that looks and tastes great.

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Easiest ever elegant dessert…part of the dessert table I made for my lovely niece Nicole’s wedding…

Chocolate berry shells

  • Buy pre-made chocolate shells
  • Daub a teaspoon or so of jam onto the shell and spread it around…it will act as “glue” for the berries
  • Decorate with a mix of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries
  • Finish with a grating of lemon peel

The most expensive raspberries in the world: Cane planting primer

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To produce these…
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…you need some great detergent

With every shovel of dirt came rocks and my future pints of raspberries went up another 10 cents. “That will be $50 please…” My revelation for the week was a reminder of just how hard farming is and how much it should really be worth.

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It’s not that big a box right. How hard will this be? All planted in an hour right? It turned out to be 10 hours with two more days to add additional compost and mulch. The box contains 100 Prelude raspberry  canes from an Ontario grower. In behind, in the early morning rays, are some of our blueberry bushes in raised beds.

In a backwards fashion we are adding to our symphony with a second 100 raspberry canes for our Carpe Diem berry farm. Last year we planted Encore raspberries, this year Prelude. Our Encores are doing great and establishing well. We will get a medium-sized harvest this year and a much bigger one next year as they mature.

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The berries on the Encore raspberries planted last year are forming up nicely.
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Taken from the tree fort balcony, here is a look at part of last year’s planting.

We chose Prelude and Encore raspberries to offer our customers early and late season berries while our competitors have the more commonly harvested supply. Prelude and Encore were developed by Cornell University at the New York State Experiment Station in Geneva, New York. Prelude matures a high percentage of its fruit in late June and early July while Encore is harvested from late July to early August. Like picking paint colours, I have to admit I was also swayed by the musical names.

Raspberry cane planting primer

  • Site selection is key. Pick a sunny and sheltered location with well-drained soil with no chance of waterlogging or flooding, as on a slope or in raised rows. Our location is on gentle slope. Raspberries don’t like wet feet but they also have a shallow root system so must not be allowed to dry out either.
  • Prepare your planting holes about two feet apart in rows about six feet apart.
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75 of our 100 will be planted here. Each of those 75 holes were dug by The Handyman with a pick-axe and shovel. Because we are a small operation we aren’t too mechanized.
  •  Plant certified disease-free stock in early spring. Ours came from Strawberry Thyme Farm in Ontario and was sent to us by refrigerated courier. I tried to find a British Columbia source that could beat their price but was unable to. Prelude came early. Last year Strawberry Thyme had let us know that they were shipping the Encores but being Prelude I guess they had to come before we were ready. We had hoped to have the posts, cross bracing, wires and drip irrigation installed but…they will have to follow as the plants must go in the ground as soon as possible after they arrive as their dormancy will break and the roots could dry out.
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I popped the canes into a bucket of water while I worked.

 

 

  • Add a shovel-full of compost to the planting hole and water in well.
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Compost is king in our nutrient-poor sandy soil. I will top-dress the planting every spring as well.

 

  • Plant the crowns at the same depth as in the nursery.
  • Add more compost mixed in with the soil you have dug out of the hole and water in very well.

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The Handyman supplies me with lots of mulch from his chipper.

  • Add a layer of mulch to keep the weeds at bay and to help conserve moisture. I watered again once the mulch was in place.
  • In a week or so I will add some Alaska Fish Fertilizer and will continue hand-watering until the canes are well established and showing signs of life or The Handyman has had time to install all the posts, wires and drip irrigation. This should wait until he runs his marathon next week as post pounding does not equal taper.
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Rocks and more rocks…how much can we charge for a pint?
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View of the tree fort with the last year’s Encore planting and this year’s Prelude
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I will plant a drought-tolerant grass seed in between the rows to help keep the canes in their rows. The lawnmower will trim off the suckers in the grassy strips.

Prelude produces attractive, high quality, firm fruit that will taste amazing. I can’t wait although now that all the canes are in I’m starting to think about the hours of picking ahead and price of those pints.

IMG_0473.JPGNext up is the addition of 50 more blueberry bushes and a netting structure to protect the blueberries from the birds.

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