Thursday, July 17, 2008


Ever gone and picked your own fruit at the farm? It can be an immensely rewarding experience. You see where the food comes from, get a discount per pound, and pick fruit riper than you will find anywhere.

Our first u-pick of the year was cherries. For me, cherries are one of those fruits that I just can't help myself with. Heaven with a pit. I can easily eat a pound a day without too much intestinal distress. Luckily the season is short or someday I'd go bankrupt because of this behavior, that I am sure of. However, this shortness of availability got us thinking about doing some preservation this year. So we started by hitting a farm in Brentwood where you go pick-'em yourself. There were 5 pickers and we hit 13 pounds in no time.

Our allotment was gorged on during the ride home and what was left we washed, pitted and began drying. Beginning with at least 1/400th of a ton, the resulting bag was puny and a bit depressing to behold. Hmmm, maybe next time we'll buy the dried cherries. Don't get me wrong, these are the tastiest dried cherries I think I've ever had, but the time involved in producing them is maddening. How much you ask? Go ahead and give it a try!

But there is a bright side. One of those hair-brained ideas hit me and it worked out for the better. You see, last year I ran a few brewing experiments with fruit in a porter. Blackberry and peach it was. Both turned out nice, but the blackberry was the winner. This year I thought hey, I can do a porter with cherries! Only, because I wasn't sure whether to do it with dried or wet cherries, I just had to get scientific about it, and do both. Mmmmm, beer and science. No wait, cherries, beer and science. Now we're talking! Man, I love experimenting with brewing alcohol! So when a batch of high gravity porter that was already under experimentation finished fermenting, I pulled some out of the big carboy and put a few gallons on fresh pitted cherries, and another gallon on dried pitted cherries. After a few weeks with the fruit re-fermenting, the whole lot was bottled and ready for conditioning.

When we finally sampled the porter it was a hit. Nice and roasty, malty indeed, belgian yeasty, and really dark. Then we tried the cherry versions........
Why the hell aren't more people doing Belgian style cherry porters?
Beats me. I guess I'll be pondering that one as I empty each bottle.

The cherries added a nice red hue to an already almost black beer. It made me think trappist. The flavor is subtle, but there. It helps knowing what it is though. I think the dried version has a touch more fruit in the nose. This picture sucks, so please trust me, this was one pretty beer. And I tell you (h)what: this beer is good!

Oh, and did I ever mention I used to want to be a monk?

With all the cherry success, we moved onto blueberries. We didn't pick any though. Wanted to but didn't research a place. We didn't dry any, but many fresh handfuls and loads of jam came from the bounty. Then a friend, intuiting our need to pick berries told us about a place to pick your own olallieberries. Or as I like to spell them Ol'-la-la-berries.

We ventured down the San Mateo County coast to a farm on top of a bluff next to the beach. Acres and acres of berries awaited us. Like the cherries, if you picked ten pounds or more, the bulk rate was 2 bucks a pound. Good thing, because we brought willing fingers and hungry mouths. We even managed to not get eaten alive by all the spiders that were protecting the vines. Perhaps the froggy boots scared the helpful vine dwellers away. (I need to get me a pair of those.) The sun broke, we filled our box nearly half way and then made our way back to the scales. We hit near 12 pounds and called it a day.

Back at the monkey ranch we enlisted the help of the big momma jam queen. She busted out two batches, a pie, and had some left over to give a few away. In the name of science I had to try an olallieberry next to a blackberry. We have some blackberries out back so I went and collected a few from the rampant growth on our shed. Side by side, the raspberry component of the ol' la-la berry was very noticeable. I smiled thinking of how the jamming and baking occurred within twelve hours of the berries being picked, so to say we preserved our fruit at the peak of ripeness would be rather accurate. It was, however, bedtime when the pie was coming out of the oven. Since ol' la-la berry flavored napalm inside an all butter crust, right before hitting the sheets ain't our idea of a night cap, the pie sat out on the counter for a long cooling rest.

The next morning the pie stared up at me, looking all delicious. I got out a few bowls and started to savor the moment, thinking that this will be a highlight to remember, one representing a moment that will likely never be forgotten. One that you truly love being a parent for.
"Hey kids, guess what?"
"Are we going to the zoo daddy?"
"Well, no, uh......even better. I hope." (I murmur)
"We're going to Disneyland?"
"No, we're not going anywhere sweetie. I'm talking about breakfast. You see, this morning we are going to have pie for breakfast!"
"Because Mommy made one last night, and it's not gonna get any better. That, and it's filled with fresh fruit that is good for you. In fact, it has berries that you picked in it!"
I look down at the monkeys and see dual looks of bewilderment. The older, her face a bit contorted with trying to think exactly what she is doing this very moment to deserve this occasion and therefore how she can possibly duplicate it in the future, while the younger is more primal, thinking with his belly and pointing to his chair, saying "ha-da, ha-da!" in anticipation of a bite of the pie on the counter that he can surely smell a thousand times better than I can.
I serve up and we scarf down.
This pie was killer.
Thank you honey. (Big momma jam queen.)
Did I say I wanted to be a monk once? Because, I have the best wife ever, so like, no way.

Preservation aside, this was at least inspired by it in a round about way. The day after the picked and purchased berry rush, I just had to make something with the remaining quark I had. Thinking of the blackberries in the yard I got down to work. The recipe was identical to a previous effort, except for the fruit. These were no farm berries, but with regard to ripe fruit and freshness preserved, I didn't have to drive anywhere, which is always good. At most, within 10 minutes these berries were mixed in the pan and being slid into an oven. Ol' la-la berries may be simply divine and preserved in jam to enjoy later, but blackberries are growing wild nearly everywhere and are free.

It's summer and the fruit is popping! Get out there and preserve something!


K and S said...

bing cherries were expensive here probably due to the oil prices. still they were delicious! enjoy summer's bounty!

Chilebrown said...

Porter, your sorter gotta make a torter. Trade?, Gift?, Share?. Oh Yeah!

Vivian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vivian said...

I'm in awe. Is there anything you can't make? Dried cherries, porter, jams, pies... you should start up your own restaurant. Everything sounds sooooo good.

leena! said...

You are so much more creative than I am with seasonal produce. I mean, pie and alcohol? I'm jealous. I've only canned some mango chutney and a few pickles. Happy Summer, Mr. Monkey Wrangler!

Monkey Wrangler said...

Kat: Bounty indeed! And hey, speaking of Bings, I heard that a variety called Coral can be hard to find around here because most of them are shipped to Japan because of the high price they command. Have you heard? They were a very large Bing.

Chile: Sorter, porter, borter, forter, and of courser somer torter.

Vivian (Hip, that's you?): That is so nice, but like damn, running a restaurant is soooooo much work. (I hear.)

Leena: I'm not so sure I'd call alcohol creative, or just habit.......

K and S said...

hmm I wonder if that was what we were buying? they didn't call them corals but american cherries...

Sean said...

Heh, I am still finding bloody spatters of cherry guts from my last bout of pitting and preserving. Worth it, though.

Monkey Wrangler said...

Kat: Apparently, corals are all the rage in Brentwood, so maybe step one next year is finding out where on the mainland they come from. Either way, I'll be thinking about it next year too.......

Sean: Yeah, guts. Speaking of them hanging around: a few months ago we moved the headboard to our bed and discovered what we first thought was some kind of insect home stuck to the wall. On further investigation it turned out to be a cherry pit. Thinking about the source, we determined that it got stuck last year when our son was newly born and my wife was having lots of cherries as midnight snacks during his nursing rounds.

K and S said...

hope I remember next year lol :)