Amanda Thibodeau: Blackberries are Harvest of the Month | TheUnion.com

Amanda Thibodeau: Blackberries are Harvest of the Month

Amanda Thibodeau
Columnist

There's something so magical about berries!

Bite-sized and sweet, berries let us know that summer is (nearly) upon us.

Which makes them the perfect item to close out the 2015-16 school year's Harvest of the Month program.

This month, 6,800 students in 22 schools are tasting blackberries from JSM Organics in 290 classrooms.

This school year alone, these same students have tasted over 5,300 pounds of local fruits and veggies as part of Sierra Harvest's farm to school programming — including produce like jicama, persimmons, Asian pears, cabbage and microgreens. They love tasting the new (and sometimes familiar) foods, and learning about the farmers who grow them and the time of year when these foods are in season.

After a whole school year of tasting, we'll celebrate the coming summer with a lovely, portable, sweet and delicious berry. Blackberries may be common and wild around these parts, but they still have a lot of nutrition to offer — and you can find them for free (just make sure to pick somewhere that's not been sprayed).

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• Blackberries are a delicious and versatile fruit, belonging to the Rubus genus in the Rosaceae family — which also includes raspberry and dewberry.

• Native to the Northern temperate areas of the globe, blackberry has been honored as the official fruit of the state of Alabama and is found copiously in North America and the Pacific coast.

• In our area, there are both native blackberry (usually a little smaller with lacier looking leaves) and Himalayan blackberry (big and bold with wider leaves). Many farmers and home gardeners also grow thornless blackberries as well — and all make healthy fruit.

• It is lore in this area that when the blackberries begin to bloom, the chance of frost has passed and you can plant your tomatoes without fear.

• Ancient cultures perceived blackberry plant as a weed or a wild plant yet its medicinal history spans back to more than 2000 years. History reveals the traditional usage of blackberry fruit, leaf, bark and roots by the Romans and Greeks for healing numerous health conditions ranging from a mild infection to venomous bites. In fact, during the 18th century the Greek cure of using blackberry for treating gout was so influential in Europe that it was famously known as the 'gout berry'.

• Much like spinach, raisins, apples, plums and grapes, blackberries are rich in bioflavonoids and Vitamin C, but other benefits include a very low sodium count and having only 62 calories to a cup.

• The dark blue color ensures blackberries have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all fruits. Antioxidants, well-known for lowering the risk of many cancers are a huge bonus, but be aware the berries are best consumed in their natural state to get the full benefits.

• In California, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries are in peak season in late spring and summer.

The easiest way to eat berries is to just eat them.

But if you want to get more creative, you can add them to salads, smoothies, desserts or yogurt. Here's a refreshing drink idea from Savory Sweet Life.

Refreshing blackberry lemonade infused with mint

Ingredients

• 3 cups water

• 1 cup sugar or sweetener of choice

• 18 mint leaves, torn

• 2 cups frozen/fresh blackberries

• ice

• 3 mint sprigs

• 4 cups natural store-bought lemonade (or make your own!)

• mint sprigs

Instructions

1. Bring the water and sugar to boil in a small pot. Stir the water/sugar mixture until the sugar is dissolved then turn off the heat. Add the torn mint leaves and give the pot a stir. Allow the simple syrup to cool.

2. Add the blackberries to a blender. Place a strainer over the mouth of the blender and pour the mint simple syrup into the container. Discard the mint leaves. Blend the simple syrup and the blackberries on low speed for just a few seconds at a time, just enough to break the berries apart but not enough to puree them.

3. Fill a juice pitcher halfway with ice and add the mint sprigs. Pour the lemonade and the blackberry mixture over the ice. Stir the blackberry mint lemonade and add more ice if necessary before serving.

Amanda Thibodeau is Farm-to-School Director at Sierra Harvest.

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