Grow Your Own Berries

My mother’s “to die for” loganberry jam was the highlight in the Christmas hamper she prepared for each of her adult children. She continued this tradition well into her eighties when even her grandchildren became the eager recipients. She also instilled in each generation the satisfaction and benefits of growing your own fruit and vegetables.

The loganberries on my parent’s farm were an unruly lot, clambering up and along a timber fence then spilling over the other side. Our tribe of six took great delight in sampling the fruit despite the not so pleasant task of searching for these little treasures among the prickly leaves. In later years our parents enjoyed a different lifestyle when they retired into the nearby township. They set up a new vegetable garden and of course once again the back fence became the berry sector.

Such memories and carrying on the family tradition motivated me to grow my own berries. But I had big shoes to fill so I did some research before embarking on the project.

There are several theories about the origin of the loganberry, with a popular one claiming    the original loganberry dates back to the 1880’s when Californian James Logan accidentally crossed a raspberry with a blackberry. With further experimenting he produced the loganberry. Several other hybrids have since been developed by crossing the loganberry parent plant with other varieties. The resulting crosses include boysenberries, youngberries, dewberries and even thornless blackberries.

A visit to a local nursery was the next step in seeking advice. Here I was lucky enough to find a nurseryman who assured me how relatively easy it is to grow berries once you follow a few simple rules. Here is the advice he passed on to me.

Location and Soil preparation: Choose an open yet sheltered position which receives plenty of sunshine. Enrich the soil with blood and bone, old animal manure and compost. In spring fertilize with plenty of potash. My berry guru also explained how a  sprinkling of wood ash can be beneficial during the growth period.

Support structure:  Different hybrids have variations in their growth habits but all need some type of support. The general rule is to erect strong timber posts at each end with steel posts in between. Attach two rows of wire to each post. These wires will supply support for training the future fruit bearing canes.

Pruning: This is important for optimum success in producing good quality berries. In winter, remove the previous year’s fruit bearing branches in order to make way for the new canes which produce the best fruit. These new canes emerge from the base of the original plants. After cutting out the old growth, lift and tie the new canes which are then trained along the wire support.

Regular watering in both summer and autumn will improve both the flavour and quality of the plants.

I took on board all this information and was ready to go. The site was chosen and the soil prepared. Next came the support structure which was a simple affair involving posts, wire and a dash of bush carpentry.  To ensure an ongoing supply of berries I decided to plant three different varieties. Loganberries were chosen for their early ripening quality.

Boysenberries and youngberries were my other choices because of their later producing and slightly sweeter qualities. The first season brought the reward of a light crop. Anyone who has tasted homegrown berries will understand the sheer joy in that first delicious bite. This early success inspired me to add some raspberries to the berry crop. These require similar conditions to their related hybrids but only need one support wire due to their upright growth habits. Both summer and autumn varieties are available.

Since then each season has produced enough berries for both desserts and jam making. Because the timing of fruit bearing varies according to seasonal conditions, it is a good idea to freeze berries as they ripen. This way you can build up a supply which will last throughout the year. The frozen berries can be used to top up jam making or whip up a dessert. Berries freeze well for both taste and nutritional value. Simply place on a tray in the freezer and when frozen store in a plastic container. By doing this you can enjoy berries at any time of the year.

Our berries have proved to be a very tough and forgiving species. They have survived both drought and floods. This year the plants spent many months soaking in pools of water. Despite these unusually wet conditions they are looking very healthy and hopefully will produce a bumper crop. They are covered in blossom and the loganberries are emerging at a rapid rate.

It seems that my mother’s traditional loganberry jam will continue into future generations. Our daughter already has a flourishing crop and her jam making skills are equal to her grandmother’s. As for the ninety-two year old lady behind this tradition; she insists there is nothing special about her loganberry jam. But I’m sure she is secretly pleased that her example and words of wisdom have not fallen on deaf ears.

 

Homegrown berries can be used as an ingredient in a variety of ways; tarts, crumbles, fruit cobblers, jams and sauces. Here are a few ideas on how to make the most of your berries.

Mix 2 cups of berries and 2 tablespoons of castor sugar in a saucepan. Heat gently until sugar is dissolved, squashing the berries to release the juices. Delicious served with creamy vanilla yoghurt or icecream.

Here is an adaptation of Nana’s Loganberry Jam. 

Mixed Berry Jam

4 cups of a mixture of loganberries, boysenberries and youngberries

White sugar, warmed slightly

1/3 cup of lemon juice

Combine the thawed berries and their juice in a large pot. Heat gently over a low heat for 10 minutes or until berries are soft. Measure the fruit and juice and return to the pan. Add a cup of sugar for each cup of fruit. Add lemon juice and stir without boiling until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil about 25minutes until the mixture gels. Pour into clean warmed jars and seal.

Hint: To test gelling, put a small amount of jam into a saucer and place it in the refrigerator until a skin forms.

 

Berry Clafoutis

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C

Ingredients:

2 cups mixed berries drained

3 eggs

200 ml light cream

75 g castor sugar

40gm almond meal

Blend eggs and sugar with a whisk. Add almond meal and whisk until smooth. Blend in cream. Scatter berries evenly over base of an oven proof dish. (6 cup capacity) Pour the custard mixture over the top. Bake for 35 minutes or until firm. Cover with a teatowel and rest for 20 miutes. Dust with icing sugar and serve with icecream.

 

 

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