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Okanagan berry farm

Bodacious red wine chocolate blackberry cake

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Juicy blackberries from our berry farm, red wine and chocolate give this cake a rich flavour punch.

The blackberries are the last of our berry crops and one of the most beautiful. Their size and juiciness is a marvel enjoyed by us and our bear visitors so picking as soon as they are ripe is important. This very Naramata cake recipe combines our berries with red wine and was a perfect late summer cake for my good pal Janet’s birthday.

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Succulent blackberries before picking.
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Mis en place for the red wine cake with my new antique cupboard from Arundel, England in the background.

Lips that touch wine will never touch mine. Come on, who wrote that nonsense. I suppose they don’t like cake or chocolate either.

I sent The Handyman off to the Naramata store for a bottle of red with a good price point for it’s cake ingredient fate and he came back with a $10 bottle which I was worried was too good to be true…even for a cake. Surprisingly, Bodacious was pretty darn good in the cake and in the chef’s glass.

This recipe makes one three-layer 6-inch cakes that served our party of 10 perfectly with no left-overs.

Red wine cake

  • 1  1/2 all purpose flour
  • 1/2 plus 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Droste, amazing chocolate…)
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature (never skip the room temperature step…if you don’t have time…put the butter in a bowl in a warm water bath in your sink to soften it up)
  • 1  1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 cup full-bodied red wine

Pre-heat the oven to 350F and grease and flour three 6-inch cake pans and set aside. I did it the hard way and used my one and only 6-inch pan and made the cake in three batches.

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

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium until smooth. Add the sugar and mix on medium-high until the butter is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the red wine, while taking sips from your wine glass in between, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on medium for no more than 30 seconds.

Evenly divide the batter among the prepared pans and bake for 23 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

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Blackberry ganache ingredients.

Blackberry ganache

  • 3 cups whole fresh blackberries
  • 2 tbs granulated sugar
  • 1 cup chopped good quality bittersweet chocolate
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Place the blackberries and granulated sugar in a saucepan. Heat over medium-high until the berries start to break down and expel their juices, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the juice through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Discard the solids.

Place the chocolate in a heat-safe bowl and set aside. Reheat 6 tablespoons of the blackberry juice in the saucepan until it begins to simmer (reserve the remaining blackberry juice for finishing the cake). The simmering juice smells amazing p.s. Pour the hot juice over the chocolate. Let sit for 30 seconds, then whisk until combined. Set aside until the ganache cools to room temperature but is still spreadable.

Once the ganache has cooled, whisk to loosen it and stir in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth.

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A Naramata evening walk while the cake cools. This view of the lake is on our regular walking route. Never gets old.

Some assembly required

Once the cakes have cooled completely, level them and choose which layer will at the bottom. Generously brush the layers with the remaining blackberry juice. Place the bottom layer on a cake plate or serving dish. Spread about 1/3 cup of the blackberry ganache with an offset spatula. Top with the next layer of cake and repeat with the ganache, finishing with the final layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with remaining ganache and top with the whole blackberries.

Review

This is an excellent cake from a few standpoints. It’s relatively easy to make as the filling between the layers and the icing is one recipe. It looks great with the blackberry topping and doesn’t involve mad piping skills. Verdict on the taste was a 10 at the party it was served at…”rich, moist, earthy and chocolatey”. I will make this one again.

This recipe comes from fellow Canadian’s Tessa Huff’s amazing book, Layered. Every cake I’ve made from this book has been stellar. Her easy to follow instructions will make you a better baker. As Tessa says, “layer cakes are the ideal vehicle for both creative expression and deliciousness…And let’s fact it — everyone loves a layer cake…It’s time to toss the cake mix and canned frosting and reach the height of your cake-baking potential!” Cheers to that.

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…

 

 

Raspberry almond tarts = a whole lot of #Naramatalove

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The Bench Raspberry Almond Tarts from The Butcher, the Baker, the Wine & Cheese Maker in the Okanagan by Jennifer Schell

The first recipe from the first crop of our Naramata raspberry farm berries is fittingly by our favourite Chef, Stewart Glynes, the owner of The Bench Market and it’s from my new favourite cookbook, The Butcher, the Baker, the Wine & Cheese Maker in the Okanagan and we are taking them to good Naramata pals’ place for dinner tonight. So much love packed in there that I had to use a run-on sentence…

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Step one…go and pick berries in pyjamas with a coffee in one hand and colander in the other.
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Step two…put on clothes and dash to the Naramata Store for butter. It’s not unusual to see horses hitched at the store but I drove. The store is a true general store and has: liquor store, bottle depot, DVD rentals, ice cream shop, deli, groceries, post office…

IMG_9972.JPGPastry

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup cold unsalted butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 3-5 Tbsp cold water

Mix together flour, butter and salt in a bowl with hands until it is a fine sand-like texture. Add cold water a little at a time, until dough comes together but is not sticky. Form into flat dish shape and chill for about an hour.

FullSizeRender.jpgAlmond filling

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  •  1 cup ground almonds
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

In your mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until smooth (about 7 minutes) on medium-high speed. Add almonds and eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Add flour and mix on low until just combined.

Preheat oven to 350. (Stewart says this recipe makes about 12 4-inch tarts but my tart rings must have been taller as I only had enough pastry for 6 tarts…) Place dough on floured surface and roll out. Cut a circle slightly larger than your tart rings or tart pans and fold into bottom of shell. Add 5 or 6 raspberries to the bottom of the shell. Add enough almond cream to come even with the top of tart. Press another 5 or 6 raspberries into top of almond cream in whatever design you like.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until top is lightly brown around edge. Top with powdered sugar and some sliced almonds toasted for a short while in the oven and garnish with a sprig of mint.

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Ready for the oven
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Et voila!

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.

If we build it I hope they don’t come or I had a raspberry farm above the Naramata Bench

IMG_0634Undaunted by our farmer’s market plant sale fail, the Handyman and I pulled out the 75 pinot gris grape vine fail and planted 100 raspberry canes in their place last spring. A second 100 will be joining them in a few weeks to add to an existing 25 raspberry bush patch, 50 blueberry bushes and a smattering of blackberry bushes and voila, Carpe Diem Berry Farm is in business with about 300 bushes. Success guaranteed as I’ve got them pretty much pre-sold to a local coffee and lunch spot, a distillery and a baker. Any left over will be sold at the farmer’s market, a u-pick day or two or frozen for winter sales.

IMG_1397What could go wrong?

My confidence was momentarily shaken when a flyer arrived in the mail from the Raspberry Industry Development Council. Actually I was pretty horrified.

IMG_7287The included  2016 raspberry calendar seemed at first glance to be a handy planting, care and maintenance guide. It in fact detailed what pesticide or herbicide to apply when for what. Malathion, Capture 240EC, Black Label Zn, Ignite OR, Dipel WP… were to help me with hard to control weeds, crown borer, bacterial blight, weevils, caterpillars, leaf rollers, two-spotted mites, botrytis, rust, root rot, fruit worm, spur blight and the new scourge of spotted wing Drosophilia. The chart includes this warning (among others): “Some chemicals are toxic to bees.” Nope. My plan is grow my berries organically and herein lies the challenge.

Another, “If we build it I hope they don’t come,” aspect are the bears that frequent our property. This may require some electrification.

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Here is part of the plot prepared for the new canes. You can see some of the blueberry patch at the top of the photo.

After careful research, we decided on a symphony of berry varieties. The first to go in last spring, ironically, were the 100 Encore raspberry canes. Developed by Cornell University, Encore is the one of the latest summer fruiting varieties available. It produces large, firm, slightly conical berries with very good, sweet flavour. This spring we are adding 100 Prelude, also patented by Cornell. These are the earliest summer fruiting variety available. The fruit is medium-sized, round and firm with good flavour. The plan is to offer local raspberries when no others are available.

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Seems crazy to order canes from Strawberry Thyme in Ontario when we live in prime berry growing country but they had the varieties we were looking for.

IMG_4200After carefully preparing the rows by digging in lots of compost, we planted these “dead sticks”, watered them in well, turned on the irrigation, mulched the rows and waited. In about two weeks we were rewarded with new growth and happily counted the live ones every day until all 100 showed leaves.

We’ve been careful with site maintenance keeping the grass mowed and raked between rows and surrounding the patch and keeping our tools clean in an effort to reduce pest problems. Our well draining sight in the dry Okanagan should help with any root rot issues.

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Taken this morning, this photo shows nice proof of life after the winter
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The blueberries are looking very healthy also

Hope springs eternal. If you don’t succeed…try, try again. Never give up. Never surrender….Here’s proof…

FullSizeRenderIn a ballsy move, I’ve bought a case of berry trays.

I welcome any comments from organic farmers about how to keep all those nasty pests away from my raspberries. There doesn’t seem to be much online about how to avoid the scariest new threat to local raspberries of the spotted wing Drosphila with organic measures other than monitoring for their presence with traps and sticky tape. Stay tuned. I hope not to be writing another “One Broke Girl” post about our latest venture.

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