Berry Good Times

This is the month to leave no stone unturned, as tree-ripened peaches, nectarines, plums, and pluots are at the peak of perfection.

The August farmers’ market is also loaded with dozens of varieties of vine-ripened tomatoes; crunchy, bursting-with-flavor cucumbers; a color spectrum of sweet bell peppers; the best just-picked corn; mountains of tiny summer squash; and tender young green beans. Pick up a bottle of California extra-virgin olive oil, and your meals for the week will pretty much make themselves. For dessert and warm-weather snacking, you can’t beat sweet-as-candy grapes; juicy watermelon; ruby red strawberries, and so many of their multi-hued cousins.

One of my favorites is the elusive boysenberry, so seldom found fresh in supermarkets due to their fragility. Their season is also pitifully brief, so it pays to seek them out now. Eat your fill this month, and preserve a secret stash to enjoy throughout the year. Boysenberries freeze well, and make exceptional jams, pies, cobblers, crisps and such.

The boysenberry resembles the blackberry in appearance, but has a deep red-to-purple color and rich, distinctive sweet-tart flavor.

Northern Californian Rudolph Boysen created the hybrid boysenberry in 1923 by crossing a raspberry, blackberry, and loganberry—to my mind, the best of all worlds. It took years of nurturing by esteemed farmers and other horticulturists to develop the berry we know today. In fact, it was their signature boysenberry preserves that put Knotts Berry Farm on the map.

As summer winds to a close, there seem to be an inordinate number of picnics and barbecues happening. This is the perfect time to showcase the season’s bounty—from homemade salsa and veggie-centric salads, to the last of summer’s fruits. The following recipe works well as a potluck dessert, as it has all the goodness of pie without any of the last-minute mess of cutting and serving in the great outdoors. I often place each square in a paper cupcake liner before piling them into a basket or other picnic-friendly container for easy serving.

Boysenberry Crumb Bars

Buttery Pastry Dough2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (about 2 teaspoons)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Boysenberry Filling

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 teaspoons cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 Tablespoons)

4 cups farm-fresh boysenberries

Optional: Confectioners’ (powdered) sugar for serving

  1. Grease a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan; line the bottom and sides with parchment or foil and grease again. Position the oven rack on the lowest level and preheat to 350°.

 

  1. To make the dough: Combine the butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on Medium speed until soft and light, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.

 

  1. Reduce the mixer speed to Low and mix in 2 1/4 cups of the flour, occasionally scraping down the bowl and paddle with a rubber spatula. Mix just until smooth and well blended.

 

  1. Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape about 3/4 of the dough into the prepared baking pan. Use the palm of your hand to evenly press down the dough without compressing it too much. Refrigerate the dough-lined pan until needed. Work the remaining 1/4 cup flour into the remaining dough with your fingertips, forming 1/4- to 1/8-inch crumbs. Set aside at room temperature.

 

  1. To make the filling: In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in the lemon juice. Fold in the boysenberries, stirring gently to coat.

 

  1. Spoon the filling over the chilled dough, spreading into an even layer. Scatter the reserved crumb mixture over the filling. Bake until the filling is bubbly-hot and the crust is cooked through and barely browned at the edges, 30 to 35 minutes.

 

  1. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Carefully lift the slab of baked dough out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut off the browned edges if desired; then cut the slab into 24 (2-inch) squares. Store in an airtight container. If desired, just before serving sprinkle the squares with confectioners’ (powdered) sugar.

 

                                                     Berry Good Things to Know

 Boysenberries are drupes, meaning each berry is composed of dozens of tiny sack-like fruits called drupelets. (How’s this for idle cocktail-party chatter?)

The proper balance of sweetness and tartness occurs only when berries are left to fully ripen on the vine. Once picked, they will never taste any better.

Refrigerate unwashed berries in a shallow airtight container lined with paper towels to absorb excess moisture.

Rinse berries clean just before using; and gently pat dry between paper towels.

Berries are high in Vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.