Sweet like raspberries

Valerie Comer photo

Today’s guest post is from Valerie Comer, author of Raspberries and Vinegar, which I blogged about earlier this month.

Raspberries are a soft fruit made of individual drupelets clustered together and filled with teensy bursts of sweet flavor. Unlike some fruits, they don’t continue to ripen after being picked. They only last for a few days before beginning to spoil, which allows them to command a high price on supermarket shelves.

I’ve been lucky enough to have access to a robust raspberry patch for most of the last 30-plus years. One house we lived in had an overgrown patch about the size of one parking space. No rows, no supports, just a jungle of canes and grass and weeds.

In early spring I’d go through with a pair of pruners and cut down the previous year’s dead wood (raspberry canes fruit the second year, then die). I’d also trim off the new growth at about chest height for easier picking.

As the raspberries began to ripen in mid-July, I’d crawl through on my hands and knees, ripping out grass and weeds by the handful, leaving them on the ground. This gave the berries air and me some sort of (wending) path through the patch. In the five years we lived in that house, we’d get about 12-15 gallons of raspberries every year.

Raspberries like a lot of water as they’re fruiting. A soaker hose works better than a sprinkling system. You don’t want the berries themselves wet as they turn mushy. You just want the canes to be able to pull up enough moisture for large, lush berries.

While the season is in progress, about 2-3 weeks, you need to pick every other day as the canes will stop producing if the old berries are allowed to remain. Berries are ripe enough to pick if they come off easily in your hand, leaving the cone behind. If they don’t pluck easily, leave them for the next picking. Make sure to reach in from underneath to find hidden berries.

raspberry bushes
My current patch is mostly ever-bearing berries of several varieties. This means I’ll get a decent run from mid-July to the first week of August or so, then nothing until about mid-September, when I get another run, albeit smaller, until frost. This can be anywhere from a week to a month of additional berry picking here in southeastern BC, Canada.

What do I do with so many berries? While they’re fresh, I love them with homemade granola and vanilla yogurt (I usually buy or make plain yogurt and add some honey and vanilla). We also enjoy raspberry shortcakes.

I freeze most of the berries, though. These I’ll crumble into whole-grain pancakes (à la blueberries), add them to smoothies, and make a few Raspberry Chocolate Chip Coffee Cakes over the winter.

Once I’ve set aside a gallon Ziploc or two for those uses, I usually make Raspberry Vinegar out of the rest. We drink a lot of this refreshing punch-like beverage all summer instead of the pop/soda or powdered iced tea we used to buy. Yep, it’s sweetened, but you control how much goes in.

This video shows how I make a small amount, but I usually make a much larger batch in a 5-gallon bucket (or two) and can it into quart jars to store for the next summer.

Ah, yes. Because I love raspberries so much–as well as the Raspberry Vinegar I make from it–it seemed apropos to put both in my newest release, Raspberries and Vinegar.

Cover of Raspberries and VinegarSweet like Raspberries. Tart like Vinegar

Josephine Shaw: complex, yet singleminded. A tiny woman with big ideas and, some would say, a mouth to match. But what does she really know about sustainable living as it relates to the real world? After all, she and her two friends are new to farming.

Zachary Nemesek is back only until his dad recovers enough to work his own land again. When Zach discovers three helpless females have taken up residence at the old farm next door, he expects trouble. But a mouse invasion proves Jo has everything under control. Is there anything she can’t handle? And surely there’s something sweet beneath all that tart.

Valerie Comer’s life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie and her family grow much of their own food and are active in the local foods movement as well as their creation-care-centric church. She only hopes her creations enjoy their happily ever afters as much as she does hers, shared with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughters.

Valerie writes Farm Lit where food meets faith, injecting experience laced with humor into her stories. Raspberries and Vinegar, first in her series A Farm Fresh Romance, released in August, 2013.

She also blogs at http://towriteastory.com, where she offers a free course via email on planning, plotting, writing, editing, publishing, and marketing fiction.

Adventures in food with kids

I’ve been experimenting with new recipes from Food52 again this week. (Well, except for two days ago, when I did a makeshift jambalaya just because I felt like it, even if it’s a better dish for cool weather.) Of course, the girl has hit the toddler age of “If it’s not mac-and-cheese or hot dogs, I don’t want it.”

Chicken tikka fajita schawarma used pita bread, and let’s face it — everything is good when you put inside a bread pocket, right? The sauce — a combination of yogurt, mayonnaise, and pan-roasted garlic — was a big hit. No one else was really interested in the cucumber, but the red bell pepper strips and most of the tomato disappeared.

The hot smoked paprika pork with mango salsa in flat bread went well with the boy — I toned down the amount of hot paprika I used, and he’s a big fan of anything with mango. The girl? Ate flat bread. The 2-1/2 pounds of pork loin makes a lot. I’ve got leftovers for lunch, though, so I’m happy.

The jambalaya was another instance of the girl not eating much — she sampled the sausage, maybe ate a bite of rice. The boy? Chicken, shrimp, sausage, rice — what’s not to like? He had seconds.

Last night, I tried buffalo shrimp wontons. Given my kids’ reactions to other foods, I tried a variety — some shrimp marinated in Tabasco, then wrapped in the wonton wrappers with the cheese mixture, some with the wrappers and the cheese, and some with only the wrappers. Oh, and I twisted up some of the wrappers and fried them up plain because yummy! My husband and I split the spicy ones, plus had some of the cheese-wrapped shrimp. Our son had mostly wonton-wrapped shrimp (dipped in cocktail sauce), plus a single one with the cheese. Our daughter was going to go with just the fried wonton wrapper with ranch, but we told her she had to have at least one shrimp to have the ranch dressing. She bit into it and discovered that she likes shrimp. (Side note: I remember her brother having a similar reaction at a seafood restaurant when he asked to try some of my lobster.)

Tonight, we’ll have leftover jambalaya. I’m hoping the girl will eat some of the shrimp this time, since she discovered she likes them.

K is for kisses on pretzels

I got this recipe from a friend who includes them in her Christmas cookie repertoire. They’re super easy, and I think they’re very tasty.

  1. Put mini-pretzels on cookie sheet.
  2. Place one unwrapped chocolate kiss on top of each pretzel.
  3. Bake 2-3 minutes at 275. (Chocolate should be squishy.)
  4. Press an M&M into the top of the kiss immediately.
  5. Refrigerate.