February 4, 2021
Berries don’t come any fresher than when hand-picked or bought directly from a farm. And berry picking with your kids is way more fun than work, given such farms often provide wagon rides, picnic areas and refreshments.
The proliferation of U-pick berry farms on Vancouver Island suggest we island folk do love our berries and we love to pick them too.
Now in season, blueberries are great to freeze, for baking, or simply to gorge upon. They have no seeds, no need to be blanched, skinned or peeled: Just a quick rinse and they are good to go. To top off the advantages of this most convenient of natural foods, blueberries are easy to pick.
Sometimes heralded as “the world’s healthiest food”, blueberries have more nutritional benefits than can be listed in this column. A full discourse on the topic can be found at the George Mateljam Foundation website. Let’s just say they are a powerful antioxidant, loaded with resveratrol (the same stuff found in red wine) and brimming with vitamins. What else is so healthy yet tastes so great – besides a good local wine, of course!
Being familiar with my local U-pick berry farms around Nanaimo, I was surprised not to find them listed in the Pick Your Own Vancouver Island website. Which leads me to believe that most regions of Vancouver Island must have their own, little-publicized, small pick-your-own berry operations.
My favorite mid-island U-pick is Steld Farm. The location, at 13605 Michael Road in Yellow Point, is a 20-minute drive from Nanaimo. They are very kid-friendly, but do not offer wagon rides or farm tours. Steld Farm is all about amazing blueberries.
Picking and freezing blueberries can be hot work. So think ahead, and have a wee fruit-based liquid treat waiting for you at the end of the harvest day.
The recipe below is fortuitous. Its other fruit, cherries, are in season at the same time as our blueberries. The spirit it calls for -gin – is also produced in abundance on our lovely island.
For this recipe I recommend Ampersand gin from the Cowichan Valley. Ampersand is an extremely herbaceous dry gin, perfectly balancing the lush fruit flavours in this cocktail. Its retail price at Lucky’s Liquor is only $36.99, bringing this outstanding hand-crafted small-batch spirit into the lowest price range of our local gins.
The Canadian Collins:
1.5 oz Ampersand gin
.5 oz lemon juice
.75 oz simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water heated then cooled)
4 pitted cherries
8 oz soda water
Muddle (crush with a muddling stick) the fruit, lemon juice and simple syrup in a tall glass. Fill the glass with ice, pour in the gin and top with soda.
A good stir and a garnish of mint, lemon and berries complete this exceptional summer sipper!