Fresh Fruit Season Is Sumptuous
This week, the markets are full of fresh, local fruit, including flats of beautiful Tayberries that work beautifully in salads or smoothies. Long and plump, these elegant, dusky red berries were bred in Scotland, a cross between a red raspberry and a blackberry. A bit less tangy than raspberries, they have the smooth savor of blackberries. They have to be hand picked because they don’t slip off the canes as easily as their raspberry parent, instead clinging to their cores the way blackberries do. This means they aren’t a common commercial crop, but someone is surely doing a fine job of both growing and picking them around here. If I ever reclaim my bindweed filled back garden, I’m planning to grow some Tayberries in a trough to keep their rambunctiousness in check.
I’m also planning to grow a couple of new-to-me kinds of raspberries, including Cascade Delight, with big, flavorful fruit, and Tulameen, with the best flavor of any I’ve tried so far. All my scrappy old plants are doomed after tasting how much better newer varieties can be. Poor old things! Raspberries are among my favorite fruit, as are nectarines, and the two together are pure magic. Add in a little minced mint or basil and you have a tantalizing tart-sweet mixture that’s perfect just as it is. With the addition of a little vanilla yogurt and homemade granola rich with pecans and walnuts, this concoction becomes my ideal summer dish, as satisfying as a light evening meal as for breakfast or lunch. I especially enjoy the combination of raspberries, nectarines, and mint with a splash of Nectarine Vanilla Bean vinegar. Bliss!!!
This easy fruit vinegar is amazingly delicious on cooked beets. It’s also fabulous in dressings for salads green or fruity, and makes a lovely shrub when mixed with sparkling water. It’s even intriguingly yummy drizzled over vanilla ice cream. Or maybe that’s just me
Nectarine Vanilla Bean Vinegar
2 cups finely chopped ripe nectarines (2 or 3)
1 vanilla bean, lightly split lengthwise
2 cups cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup sugar or honey
Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, cover pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Pour into a clean jar, cover and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight or up to 36 hours. Strain into a clean bowl through a fine sieve or several layers of muslin cheesecloth until dripping stops. (Use the fruit in yogurt or a quick cobbler). Pour liquid into a clean bottle, seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Add the well-rinsed vanilla bean to the bottle if you want to emphasize the flavor. Makes about 2-1/2 cups.
How Bindweed Can Help (!?!)
Years ago, a friend told me an amazing story about a time when she was helping an elder with her large, fruitful garden. The aging garden was getting overgrown and becoming too much for the equally aging gardener to keep properly. My friend was trying to bring the garden into order, not to manicure anything but simply make it all more manageable. One area that seemed a likely place to start was a lush raspberry patch, full of healthy, vigorous plants but also totally infested with bindweed. My friend spent hours carefully removing every scrap of bindweed from between the canes and getting as much of the roots out as possible without disturbing the berry plants. When she proudly showed off her work to the gardener, the woman looked carefully at the berry patch then said, “I imagine that you think you’ve done me a favor.”
A bit stunned, my friend asked her what she meant. As it turned out, the gardener had been losing most of her fruit to the birds. She discovered that when bindweed covered the fruit canes, the birds didn’t see the ripening fruit and she was able to harvest quarts of berries, enough for jam and pies and filling the freezer. I was reminded of this story recently when I thrashed my way into my tiny but overgrown backyard. It’s been gently going to the wild ever since a major electrical project left it difficult to access and now it’s exactly like that elderly gardener’s berry patch. The good news is that, like her, I have been happily harvesting raspberries by the quart, untouched by birds or raccoons. Onward, right?