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Berry Big News

Yes, yes: the 'ish is berry late.  Maybe it's "week-and-a-half-ish."  But it's full of excitement, and fairly focused this week.  In celebration of blueberry season (yes, we should have blueberries this weekend!) and the Fourth of July, we thought we'd share the current state of our red, white, and blueberries.

We're actively adding perennial crops to our mix, especially nuts and berries.  And we've always had a few berries to bring to market.  So, we thought we'd give a status update on some of the various berries we're spending time with this year.  Not all of them: we'll skip, goji berries, gooseberries, and currants, all of which are present on the farm in some capacity.  But we'll focus on some of the others, all of which I photographed Monday, so you're gonna get the latest, greatest newsiest news here!

So, what berries are we talking about here?  How about: Yeah, that should be a berry good start to the story!

Meanwhile, make sure to swing by and visit us a the Culver Farmers' Market Tuesday and Saturday, and the  Mishawaka Farmers' Market on Sunday the Fourth.  Note that the Culver Farmers' Market will be displaced to the Basketball Courts in the town park due to LakeFest.  Not looking forward to hauling your produce around the parade and throngs of festival goers, but still need fresh local produce for your family celebration?  Order online by Wednesday for home delivery Thursday - it's the perfect week to do so!

Order Deadlines

Delivery Option     Deadline
Pickup @ Culver Farmers' Market | Tuesday     Monday, 10pm*
Home delivery | Thursday     Tuesday, 10pm*
Pickup @ Culver Farmers' Market | Saturday     Thursday, 10pm
Pickup @ Mishawaka Farmers' Market | Sunday     Thursday, 10pm
*Sourdough orders for delivery require an additional 24 hours
Shop Now

Mulberries


I shared a fair bit about mulberries in last week's 'ish.  So, I'll redirect you there for details.  The mulberry crop has been plentiful this year, and there are still delicious berries to be had. They've been selling very quickly, though, so word seems to be getting out on these delicious superfoods!
Early this week, though, I did something unexpected with them: I made Mulberry Pork Chops.  Though the recipe isn't ready for prime time yet (the flavor is good, it's just not as pretty as I'd like...), I'd encourage you to try it!

Grapeseed Oil (or another high-smoke-point oil)
4 Thick-Cut pork chops (Amor Gardens and Pork)
Kosher Salt
Pepper
1 pint Mulberries
1 bunch Thai Basil, minced
Balsamic Vinegar

Serves 4

Set the oven to it's "keep warm" setting, or 180 degrees.  Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet.  Season the chops liberally with salt and pepper, then saute until done.  If the chops are big, you may need to cook them two at a time.  Transfer to the oven to stay warm while you prepare the mulberry sauce/glaze/compote (I was going for a sauce, but its texture was more of a compote.  I think it might be great to try using mulberry jam or jelly, for more of a glaze texture, which would be more pretty).

De-glaze the pan with a little bit of water, scraping up all of the yummy brown bits.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the mulberries.  Cook, stirring and smooshing berries frequently, until the mulberries cook down.  If it starts to dry out too much, add more water.

When the berries form a nice paste, add the basil.  Stir for a couple of minutes until its flavor infuses the sauce.  Stir in balsamic vinegar to taste - just enough to brighten the flavors.

Make a pool of berry sauce on the plate, put a chop on top, then add more berries.  Garnish with a sprig of basil.  Yum!

Blueberries


Blueberries continue to be the only crop we sell that we don't grow.  Alas, our soil is not conducive to blueberries' picky tastes!  As we expand our perennial production areas, though, I keep doing soil tests that are specific to a small area, rather than an aggregate of a whole garden.  So, with hope, we'll find the right micro-site for them soon.

This year, we'll continue picking at our favorite local blueberry farm, but it's under new ownership!  Kathy and Maury retired from Siders' Berry Farm, and Drew and Stephanie have moved in, changing the name to Valhalla Farms.  We are excited to see the generations-long traditions of their farm continue to grow and evolve. 

We are also excited for blueberry season to start!  We always hope to have blueberries for Fourth of July weekend, and we should indeed have them this weekend!  Woohoo!

Wild Black Raspberries


My favorite flavor of the year: wild black raspberries!  We began picking them Monday, and took some to market for the Culver Tuesday Farmers' Market.  They sold out fast!

These guys truly are wild: they grow along our woods edges, along the pond, in fencelines and hedgerows around the farm, planted by foodie snob birds.   We like foodie snobs, especially when they plant wild yummies!  They have lots of seeds, lots of thorns, and love to grow among lots of poison ivy, stinging nettle, and mosquito havens.  Picking them is truly a labor of love.  But the flavor?  Only love and lots of itching can produce such an exquisite flavor!

Because they are wild and unmanaged, the quality and size of the crop is completely dependent on the weather in a given year.  This year was looking rather meager due to the drought. But this week's rainfall came at exactly the right time!  The berries are plump, juicy, and delicious!  But, you better get to the market early if you want to snag a box!

Strawberries

We're doing something a little out of the ordinary for strawberries.  We're growing day-neutral strawberries.  These guys have a different fruiting cycle than the most common june-bearing strawberries, whose season is usually coming to a close about now.  They are also different than the second-most-common everbearing strawberries, which are usually managed to give both a spring and a fall crop.  Instead, these guys care more about temperature than daylight length.  As long as the temperatures are in their favored range, they'll make berries!

They typically aren't grown commercially, because they bear later than the June bearers, and don't make a lot of berries at one time.  That's ideal for us, though, because we don't have enough time in June to deal with picking strawberries, but often find a bit of a slump in the market this time of year, and in the early fall.

If all goes according to plan, look for strawberries sporadically throughout the season, whenever the weather cooperates.  We have our first crop of nice-looking berries sizing up now;  if the predicted rain cooperates so they can ripen successfully, we might have a few berries this weekend or next!
 

Wild Blackberries


The birds that brought us mulberries and wild black raspberries have also brought us wild blackberries!  These guys grow in some of the dryer, sunnier edges of the farm.  They tend to be found in some of the worst soils, where you wonder how they could possibly produce any fruit.  Maybe that harsh environment explains why they put out so many sharp thorns! 

But, delicious fruit they do make!  They are smaller, more sour fruit than you'll get from cultivated blackberries like you can pick at 110 Blackberry Farm.  Which makes them perfect for sweetened dishes like jams, pies, and ice cream.  I'm pretty sure the best ice cream I ever made was made with our wild blackberries!

Elderberries


Our main perennial planting focus for this year is hazelnuts, elderberries, and seaberries.  Elderberries are a fabulous native shrub, with large clusters of sweet white flowers.  The flowers can be used to make elder flower tea, or a naturally-carbonated fizzy elder seltzer, or mixed with honey and used to make elder flower mead.  The deep purple berries are widely sought after as a medicinal, known for incredible immune-boosting strength.  They also make delicious jams and juices.

We have a few wild elderberry shrubs, such as the one pictured here.  But we are planting known varieties of American Elder, our native kind.  It is difficult to tell if the wild shrubs are the native American Elder, or if they are European Elder, as both are widely found throughout the countryside.  European Elder is more commonly cultivated, but American Elder has important advantages for us.  American Elder is more nutritious, and higher in concentration of several important antioxidants for the immune system.  But, more importantly, it does not need to be cooked before consumption.  European Elder is high in toxic glycosides, which need to be destroyed by cooking before consumption.  But the American Elder is glycoside free!

I don't know if I like raw elderberries or not.  But I suspect I do - and I certainly want to try them!  But, the only way to safely do so is to ensure I'm eating American Elderberries.  With cross-polination between the two strains in the wild, the only way to tell for certain is laboratory testing of the fruit, or propagating bushes that have already been tested.  We're dong the latter.

We should be able to start producing some small quantities of elderberry products within the next couple of years!

Seaberry


Seaberry, also known as Sea Buckthorn, is a fascinating  fruit.  The bush is a nitrogen fixer, partnering with soil bacteria to produce its own fertilizer from the nitrogen in the air.  As a bonus, it can share that nitrogen with neighboring plants!

So, in our system, we've planted rows in a rather feminine repeating "SHE" pattern: Seaberry, Hazelnut, Elder.  Thus, every elderberry and hazelnut shrub is next to a seaberry shrub, which should help nurse its neighbors!

The berries themselves come in large clusters of tiny orange berries, which are harvested in late summer to early winter. They are are a difficult harvest, coming in tight clusters of berries among large thorns.  Many people simply cut whole clusters and freeze them, then whack the frozen clusters against a bucket to separate berry from thorn and stem.

Seaberry juice has a flavor similar to tangerines, and both the juice and the seed oil offer incredible nutrient profiles.  They are high in calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamins B1, B2, B6, and E, and omega-3, 6, 7, and 9 fatty acids, along with massive concentrations of vitamin C.  It is used both for its delicious flavor, and for an immune system boost.  It is also often used topically in skin care creams.  Seaberry oil shows promise in the treatment and prevention of hypertension and other cardiovascular issues, as well as reducing inflammation due to arthritis or too much gardening work!

While seaberry can be nearly indestructible once it is established, it can be very difficult to propagate and transplant.  We transplanted some tiny starts this year, but most are struggling and still tiny.  They are also dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants.  So, in addition to getting some to survive, we have to make sure we have the right gender ratio as well!  With hope, they'll become established successfully this year, grow well next year, and we should start harvesting seaberries in 2023 or 2024.

Autumn Olive


Autumn Olive shares some traits with seaberry: the fruit are tasty and very nutritious, and they are a nitrogen-fixing shrub.  However, unlike seaberry, autumn olive is horribly invasive. 

We have a small, but rapidly expanding, population of autumn olive.  It's mostly held in check by the even-more-invasive bush honeysuckle on our land.  So, this one is getting the opposite treatment from the other berries listed in this 'ish: eradication!

Autumn olive is one of the primary targets in our invasive species removal project over the next three years.  Which reminds me: if you're looking for a great volunteer opportunity on the farm, we will be scheduling some volunteer work party days to help with invasive species removal soon.  Let us know if you'd like to help fend off the attack!  This little guy is already helping!

Order Deadlines

Delivery Option     Deadline
Pickup @ Culver Farmers' Market | Tuesday     Monday, 10pm*
Home delivery | Thursday     Tuesday, 10pm*
Pickup @ Culver Farmers' Market | Saturday     Thursday, 10pm
Pickup @ Mishawaka Farmers' Market | Sunday     Thursday, 10pm
*Sourdough orders for delivery require an additional 24 hours
Shop Now
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