It’s been unusual. A cooler and wetter spring…a pandemic that kept us a home. Our secret garden has been the beneficiary. Here is a bit of a photo essay on the effects of perfect growing conditions and lots of attention in our Naramata, British Columbia, Canada garden on the summer solstice.
“I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us.” The Secret Garden
The purples seem more purple this year…
The pinks more pink…
And we’ve had time to sit and enjoy it all unfolding.
With our pals who are allowed in from time to time…
Just outside the garden walls is our raspberry farm just days away from harvest.
The farm has never looked so tidy. One hour-long spray with round-up would have dealt with all the grass and weeds that invaded the rows but we don’t spray or use chemicals so it was a 160-hour job completed over four months. On hands and knees with a garden fork… It should be easier to maintain going forward with minor attention. It looks great but more importantly the raspberry roots now have less competition for nutrients, water and space. It’s going to be a bumper crop.
This Naramata take on a classic Victoria sponge is two fluffy sponges lightly flavoured with vanilla and almond with a very special sandwiching layer…Legend Raspberry Jam and a healthy dollop of whipping cream.
Here is a Cole’s Notes version of what went into making that legendary jam:
Grow the raspberries on our farm.
Harvest the raspberries at their peak.
Deliver to Legend Distilling.
Legend makes Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka with them. (Check out my post about how it’s made minus some secrets.)
Make raspberry jam with some more of our farm fresh raspberries and some of Legend’s Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka made from our raspberries. It’s like raspberries times three.
A limited supply of this special jam is for sale at Legend Distilling during the Christmas season… You can of course substitute a high-quality raspberry jam but your cake will be slightly less legendary.
Our recent snow fall has put paid to my fresh raspberry supply so it’s time to bring out the jam.
3/4 cup unsalted butter (soft)
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
3 extra-large or large eggs (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached self-rising flour
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8″ round cake pans. Cut a round of parchment and fit in the bottom of your pan and grease and flour.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined and smooth.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition.
Add the extracts.
Add the flour, beating gently just until well combined.
Divide the stiff batter evenly between the cake pans; there’ll be 11 to 12 ounces of batter in each, depending on the size eggs you used.
Bake the cakes for about 20 minutes, or until they start to pull away from the edges of the pans. Remove them from the oven, cool for a couple of minutes, and turn out of the pans onto a rack to cool completely.
When the cakes are cool, place one layer on a plate. Spread with the Legend jam or a jam of your choice.
Whip the cream — 2/3 cup cream makes a medium-thickness layer of filling; 3/4 cup cream, a thick layer. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, or to taste, as you whip the cream until it’s quite stiff. Stir in the vanilla at the end.
Pipe the whipped cream over the jam. You could also spread the whipped cream if you prefer.
Top with the second layer of cake.
Sift icing sugar over the top of your cake.
Refrigerate the cake until you’re ready to serve it. It’ll be at its best within 12 hours; but is still quite good up to 2 or even 3 days later. The difference will be the whipped cream, which will gradually settle/compact. Yield: about 12 servings.
Take just picked raspberries from our Naramata berry farm and a craft-distilled slowly infused Farm Berry Vodka from our neighbour Legend Distilling and bottle it. Think toast on a cold January morning in front of a fire slathered with the colours and aromas of a hot summer day – elegant and not oversweet.
This easy jam recipe can be adapted for ingredients you have easy access to if you don’t happen to own a berry farm or live near a distillery. There is no substitute for the Wine Glass Writer pens I used to mark the jars with, however. They are invaluable for canning, as I like to re-use jars and scrubbing sticky labels off is an unnecessary and annoying step. The writers are fun to use and lets you be creative, jazzing up and customizing your jars.
Adding a soupçon of a summer wine like rosé or a fruit-infused spirit like Legend’s Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka plays well with the beautifully ripe fruit. Legend’s limited release handmade vodka – slowly infused with the best local fruits, is the distillery’s tribute to those who value the slow and steady – acknowledging that all great things come to those who wait.
The berries in Legend’s Slowpoke come from our farm, which is a cool fact I brag about a lot. I think this makes the jam especially nice. Our berries are hand picked in the mornings and delivered to the distillery that same afternoon. Distiller Doug Lennie does his magic and now I’m adding this infusion into more fresh picked berries with some sugar and a dash of lemon juice. It’s like raspberry essence distilled, given a kick and married with yet more raspberries.
I like using a touch of alcohol in sweet preserves to give them a certain je ne sais quoi. It elevates a nice jam to an extraordinary one. A half cup for the jam, a small glass for me…
Like all cooking and baking, the end results are always, always about using the best quality ingredients you can source. Pick your own raspberries, buy them from a local farmer at the market, buy organic ones from the supermarket or as a last resort, use top quality frozen berries. Choose a hand-crafted spirit or a nice bottle of rosé.
Legend Raspberry Jam Recipe
Makes about 12 small jars (125 ml) of jam or six to eight larger jars.
16 cups raspberries
4 cups sugar
Juice from ½ lemon
½ cup Legend Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka (or another berry-infused spirit, Kirsch or a nice dry rosé)
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Using your hands, crush the raspberries until completely broken down.
2. Transfer the raspberry mixture to a large saucepan and bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-high and continue to stir until the jam has thickened, about 12 minutes. During this 12 minutes, I like to ladle about the half the jam mixture through a sieve placed over the boiling jam to remove some of the raspberry seeds.
3. Transfer the jam to a sterile airtight container and let it cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator and use within a month.
4. If you wish to store the jam for up to a year as I do, follow these canning instructions.
To check if the jam has set, place a teaspoon of jam onto a chilled plate and place in the freezer for a few minutes. Using your finger, push through the jam. If it wrinkles, it has set; if not, cook the jam for an additional minute or two.
Fill a canner or stockpot half full with water. Place lid on canner. Heat to a simmer. Keep canning rack to the side until ready to use.
Wash jars, lids and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse well.
Keep jars warm until ready to use, in order to minimize risk of breakage when filling with hot jam or jelly. Set the jars on a cookie sheet in a 250F degree oven.
Boil some water in a kettle and pour over the lids placed in a heat-proof bowl. Set the bands aside in your work area. Use a canning magnet to easily remove the lids from the hot water with out touching them.
Fill your jars
Ladle hot jam into hot jars, one at a time, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe any jam or jelly from the rims of the jars. Center lids on jars. Twist on the bands until fingertip tight.
Place six filled jars in the canning rack inside the canner, ensuring jars are covered by 1-2 inches of water. Place lid on canner. Bring water to gentle, steady boil. Repeat until all your jars have been boiled.
Process jars in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 12 to 24 hours by pressing on centre of cooled lid. If the jar is sealed it will not flex up or down. Store any un-sealed jars in the fridge and use within a month.
Our raspberries are summer captured in juicy jewel bites. When they hang out with Legend Distilling‘s craft vodka along with some BC blueberry and cranberry pals summer is but a pour away, anytime of the year.
A good portion of our Naramata Carpe Diem berry farm’s raspberries end up at Legend Distilling, a short walk from us. They use them as a cocktail garnish and in their Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka.
Distiller and Legend owner Doug Lennie was pressing off the fruit that had been infusing into his craft vodka for a secret amount of time when I dropped off this morning’s harvest.
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…”)
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.
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.
Snickering 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…
Undaunted 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.
What 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.
The 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.
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.
After 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.
Hope springs eternal. If you don’t succeed…try, try again. Never give up. Never surrender….Here’s proof…
In 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.