The end of June has somehow magically vanished into the beginning of July, both in real life and on this blog. That must have been a doozy of a July 4th celebration for me...actually, it was a classic "San Francisco 4th of July", meaning the waterfront was so densely covered in fog that we couldn't see any fireworks! We did hear them, however, a dim and ghostly percussion sounding throughout the night.
However, the holiday weekend was not a total loss, and I'm happy to finally share the story - along with a double dose of recipes as a reward for your patient waiting. In an effort to escape the fog, we drove down the coast just south of Half Moon Bay to shimmeringly sunny blue skies spread over verdant fields of ripe berries, all waiting to be picked!
If you haven't gone berry-picking, or fruit-picking in general, there's no sweeter way to get back in touch with your inner child. Remember those glorious days when your were young and summer seemed to last forever, and every day you would ride out with your friends on your bikes to discover new adventures were awaiting you? Maybe you would go down to the creek and see what mysterious fauna you'd find there. Maybe you'd go play ball until it got too hot and then you'd rest in the shade, listening for the tinkling approach of the ice cream truck. And maybe as you were riding down some hot, dusty lane, you'd pass by some bushes budding with small, dark berries, and you'd pluck some off and eat them, still warm and fragrant from the sun, and feel tart-sweet fireworks erupt in your mouth.
This was what the u-pick fields at Swanton Berry Farms were like - rows upon rows of berries nodding gently in the sunshine, the friendly folk at the entrance handing you some cardboard boxes, upon which you were free to pick to your heart's content - or until you'd realized you'd picked enough berries to last you a week.
The farms offer several different fruits to pick, including strawberries, kiwis, and olallieberries, which is what we went for. Now, I'm sure that many of you are wondering, "What's an olallieberry? Did she make that up?" Trust me, I got that question from many of my friends as well. I only learned about olallieberries a few years ago, so to learn that I could pick them myself was a thrilling discovery!
Olallieberries are a cross between loganberries and youngberries, also berries that sound like they've been dreamed up in a farmer's fervid imagination. Loganberries are a cross of blackberries and raspberries, while youngberries are a cross of blackberries and dewberries. So really, this gives the olallieberry a remarkably impressive pedigree - they're kind of the ultimate berry! In reality, they are truly wonderful; surprisingly large (some almost half the length of my thumb), plump, wine-dark, and delicious. They taste similar to blackberries, although perhaps not quite as tart - some of the very ripe ones I ate right off the vine were like nectar.
Olallieberries are mostly found on the west coast and enjoy a very brief season, mostly from June to July, so it was lovely to take advantage of them while they were in full flower. There were quite a few families at the farm as well - berry picking followed by a picnic seems an ideal plan for a lazy weekend.
Wagons and carriers to hold your precious cargo.
Rows of olallieberry vines.
Olallieberries look quite similar to blackberries.
Berry picking can be a delightfully messy business - the juice that squirts out of overripe olallieberries is a shockingly vibrant fuschia- purple.
So, what to do with your bounty of berries? One of the great things about going to u-pick farms, naturally, is that the fruit costs a lot less than if you buy it at the store. If you want to make jams, jellies, pies, anything that requires large amounts of fruit, there's no small amount of satisfaction to be found in going home with a box full of berries that cost you about as much as a couple of small containers' worth from the grocery would- and you can boast that you harvested them yourself!
One of my companions is a dedicated jam-maker and presented me with a beautiful jar of deep-purple jam the next week. I went the other direction and reciprocated with a trio of berry desserts: that huckleberry and fig tart that I fell in love with last year worked wonderfully with the olallieberries, an olallieberry and shorbread napoleon, and some olallieberry and white tea cupcakes.
If you don't have olallieberries where you are, be assured that you can substitute any similar berry, like blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, huckleberries, with outstanding results. After all, these desserts are meant to showcase the berries of the season!
The olallieberry and orange shortbread napoleons are taken from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course - her recipe, which featured blackberries, orange shortbread, and crème fraîche, always sounded tempting to me. Since this post seems to be DIY-themed, I'll note that the wavy shape of the shortbread wafers came from me. I couldn't find a cookie cutter with the shape I had in mind, so I just made a template out of card stock (I'm normally not a very crafty person, so I'm ridiculously pleased with this!). Although I did a triple-layer napoleon, the shortbread is quite buttery and rich, so I think two layers would probably be sufficient to allow one to enjoy both the berries and the cookie. The floral, orange-scented whipped cream also adds to the summer-garden tea-party feel of this dessert. A beautiful way to show off your fresh berries.
I also took the chance to work these olallieberries into my cupcake testing; I've been trying to work out the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe. This is the latest iteration: a cupcake made with white tea-infused milk and laced with juicy berries. White tea has a light, subtle flavor; I had to infuse the milk for quite a while to get the flavor to come out. You can use a stronger tea if you like, or just use vanilla; either way, it's a light, fluffy cupcake that could find its way onto the breakfast table as well. They would do well with a topping of frosting as well.
Olallieberry season will be over soon, but I'll be looking forward to returning next year and picking more perfect berries off the vine.
Olallieberry Orange Shortbread Napoleons
adapted from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course
makes about 12 cookies, or 6 servings
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 pint berries
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup whipped cream
2 teaspoons orange-blossom honey or regular honey
1 teaspoon orange flower water
To make the shortbread: beat the butter and confectioners' sugar together in a stand mixer on medium until light and fluffy.
Add the vanilla and orange zest and beat to combine.
Add in the flour and salt and beat until a smooth dough form. It may be very soft.
Form dough into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight.
When you are ready to make the shortbread, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Roll the dough out between two sheets of wax paper or two silicone baking mats to about 1/4" thick. If the dough is too hard, let it sit for a few minutes to soften up but don't let it get too soft or it will start melting on you. You can always return the dough to the refrigerator to let it firm up.
Use desired cookie cutter to cut out shapes (about 3" across is best) from the dough. Place on prepared baking sheets.
Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, rotating halfway through. Let cool on wire rack before assembling napoleons.
Combine about a quarter of the berries with the sugar in a bowl and let macerate for 10 minutes. Puree the mixture in a blender and strain out the seeds and other pulp. Mix the puree with remaining berries.
To assemble the napoleons, whip the cream together with the honey and orange flower water in a mixer until it holds soft peaks.
Place a shortbread cookie on a plate and top with some whipped cream. Spoon some of the berry mixture on top and top with another shortbread cookie. Serve immediately.
Olallieberry White Tea Cupcakes
makes 12 cupcakes
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon white tea leaves or other tea
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg + 1 egg white
1 pint berries
Bring the milk just to a boil and pour over the tea leaves. Let steep for about an hour or more, depending on the intensity of flavor you want.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a bowl and set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar together in a mixer on medium until light and fluffy.
Add in the egg and beat until combined. Add in the egg white and beat until combined.
Add in the flour mixture and milk in five alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Let each addition combine fully on low speed before adding the next one. After the final addition, let the flour just combine before stopping.
Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Press a few berries into each cupcake.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the cupcakes are lightly golden.