The Best of Berry Season in Skagit Valley
It’s finally here . . . Berry season! Delicate, June-bearing strawberries followed closely by sweet, plump blueberries, are the stars of the northwest summer. We in the Skagit Valley are blessed with some of the best berry-growing conditions in the world. Here’s a run-down of what to expect, and from whom.
Hedlin Farms in La Conner supplies our June-bearing strawberries. These are nothing like the crunchy California and Mexico-grown berries of winter, and are pretty different even from the everbearing local berries we’ll see after that magical few weeks of Hedlin fruit. They aren’t varieties that were developed for storage. They are meant to be savored or processed immediately. That’s why Hedlin delivers them every day while they are in production. Any berries left over the next day are shipped to the deli, where they are processed and made into our amazing Skagit strawberry ice cream. This year they will have three varieties, which we will keep labeled so you can tell them apart. Puget Crimson was developed at WSU in 2003 by crossing Schwartze and Valley Red. Very sweet and strong in flavor, they yield well and tend to be large. They have a full, well-balanced, classic strawberry flavor. Rainiers are a bit smaller and more delicate in flavor. They are a sibling to Shuksan, my personal favorite, which will be the third variety this year. Shuksans have a darker, bittersweet, wine-like flavor. I describe them as the dark chocolate of June-bearing berries. They will be in short supply, so make sure to try them when you can!
Next up are blueberries from Blue Heron Farm in Rockport and Bow Hill Blueberries in Bow. Blue Heron grows mostly Reka, Jersey, and Bluecrop. Bow Hill grows Rubel, Stanley, Jersey, and Blue Crop. Blueberry varieties ripen at similar times and it’s not typically as easy to differentiate between varieties, but when we can we will. Reka is an early season variety developed in New Zealand. Medium-sized berries with a very rich, somewhat tart flavor. Jerseys are a medium-large berry, one of the oldest varieties available, with a distinct, very sweet flavor.Late ripening, these will be what we see the most of in August. Bluecrops ripen mid-season and have a long production period, making them a popular choice for farmers. Medium-sized fruit, firm, with a good sweet-tart balance. They don’t have a terribly distinct flavor, but taste like we expect blueberries to taste. Rubels are a smaller, older variety that is closer to a wild blueberry than most commercial varieties. Cultivated for over a century, these are a wonderful choice for baking. Very strong flavor, and more antioxidants than most highbush varieties. Stanley was a popular commercial variety from the 30s through the 50s. Medium sized fruit with a strong aroma.
There you go! If you read my last article and started a Christmas Rumtopf, these are the obvious next layers to add on top of the rhubarb. One pound of washed, fresh fruit mixed with ½ lb sugar added to your jar, and topped again with rum. Next you’ll add stone fruit- cherries, peaches and nectarines from Brownfield Orchards, coming soon!
by Ben Goe