By Carrie Uffindell
MARIONBERRIES. BOYSENBERRIES. HOOD STRAWBERRIES.
Oregon-grown berries are as iconic and flavorful as Willamette Valley pinot noir, chocolate-coated hazelnuts or fresh Dungeness crab. And with berry season at its peak throughout the summer, here’s how you can relish this sweet bounty all summer and beyond.
What makes Oregon’s berries so delicious? First, the state has one long growing season, unlike warmer regions such as Mexico and California, which have several shorter seasons. This, along with cooler temperatures, volcanic soil and clean water, allows the fruit to ripen on the vine and develop their natural sugars more slowly.
“This is also how the Willamette Valley grows such amazing wine grapes,” says Darcy Kochis, Marketing Director for the Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission. “That same terroir also contributes to the quality of our berries and the wide variety that we grow.” And like wine grapes, most of the state’s berries are grown in the Willamette Valley.
Combine Oregon’s terroir with its dedicated batch of berry farms (most of which are family-owned and -operated, some for generations), which grow for taste, not transport, it’s little wonder that these fruits are in such high demand. In fact, Oregon is the largest producer of blackberries, boysenberries and black raspberries in the U.S. It’s also second in blueberries, third in raspberries and strawberries and fourth in cranberries.
And, while 90 percent of the state’s blackberries are frozen or canned to preserve their flavor, texture and nutrients, more growers are also offering their berries in fine food markets and artisan products.
“I think there’s a heightened interest these days as we’re all becoming more aware of where our food comes from,” Kochis says. “Drinks, sauces and dairy products all benefit from berries. They taste great and have a high density of nutrients.”
There’s another big change in today’s berry market, thanks to collaborative efforts between the berry commissions, growers and the USDA-ARS breeding program: a partnership with Oregon State University to develop new berry varieties.
To get your Oregon berries and berry products this summer, go right to the source. At berry farms like Smith Berry Barn in Hillsboro and Sauvie Island’s Columbia Farms, you can select or pick berries and browse products in their gift shops.
Portland-based companies like Salt and Straw, Hotlips Pizza and Eastside Distilling use Oregon berries in their products, which range from house-made sodas to ice creams. At your local and national retailers, look for products like yogurts, kefir, jams, syrups and frozen berries labeled “grown in Oregon” or “grown in the Northwest.” Also, check out the canned section for tins of preserved berries labeled “Oregon Specialty Fruit,” which are packed by one of Oregon’s last remaining fruit canneries, Oregon Fruit Products.
Pan-Roasted Chicken Thighs with Blackberries and Thyme
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs Sea salt and black pepper
1 Tbsp. high-heat oil
1 cup blackberries
2 Tbsp. butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1. If time allows, generously salt and pepper the chicken thighs several hours ahead of time and refrigerate, uncovered, on a rack over a sheet pan.
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
3. In a large, heavy skillet (preferably cast iron), warm oil over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, add chicken skin-side down and allow to cook, undisturbed, until well-browned, about 6-8 minutes. Flip thighs so the skin side is facing up. Add blackberries to the skillet and place in the oven. Roast until the internal temperature of chicken reaches 170 degrees F, about 15-20 minutes.
4. Remove skillet from oven and spoon off excess fat. Push chicken thighs to one side of the skillet. Add butter, garlic, and thyme to the hot skillet, tilting the pan so the butter pools in one corner. Use a spoon to baste the chicken with herb butter several times. Remove chicken to a plate, and drizzle with additional herb butter. Serves four.
Oregon Marionberry Date Bars
3 cups marionberries, whole (frozen or fresh)
3 cups dates, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Crust and Topping
1¾ cup flour
1¾ cup rolled oats 1 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
¾ cup butter, melted
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. For filling, combine marionberries, dates and water in a sauce pan. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently until dates and berries blend into a thick puree. Add salt and lemon juice. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. For crust and topping, combine dry ingredients in medium-sized bowl. Add melted butter or margarine and stir to crumb consistency. Pour slightly more than half the crumbs into a 9” x 13” pan. Pat to form a firm crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.
4. Spread filling over baked crust. Top with remaining crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes
5. Cool to room temperature. Cut into 36 bars.
Recipes courtesy of Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission.