Patti Bess: Berry delicious, berry nutritious |

Patti Bess: Berry delicious, berry nutritious

Blackberries ripe for the picking.
Photo by Alan Haight |


Besides finding great berries at most of our farmers markets, here are a few other local sources.

Most will begin picking by early June.

Bierwagen’s Donner Trail Fruit Strawberries/boysenberries

18532 Colfax Highway U-Pick by appointment 477-5992

Lazy Valley Ranch Blueberries/blackberries

Penn Valley U-Pick by Appt. 432-2234

Johnson Family Farm Special Orders at 575-1113

And at Farmer’s Markets on Tues, Thurs, & Sat.

Mountain Bounty Farm Strawberries

At Nevada City Market-Saturdays

Riverhill Farm Strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries

13500 Cement Hill Road, NC U-Pick as available Wednesdays 2-6 PM & NC Farm Market Saturdays

“We’re rich!,” my 5-year-old son exclaimed as we laid out our numerous baskets of fresh berries on the kitchen counter. It was 20 years ago, but I’ll never forget that look on his face.

The day our family went berry picking was always fun and a good teaching experience.

Long timers (not old timers) will remember Lester’s Berry Farm on McKitrick Ranch Road. They had acres and acres of blueberries and raspberries. Back then it was the only place for U-pick. The sweet taste of summer is almost upon us and a continual parade of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and boysenberries.

There are several U-pick berry farms in our area now, as well as more local farms selling at the farmers market.

It’s a great way to be outdoors together with friends or family, U-pick stretches the budget as well as providing more nutrition and flavor. The season for most fruit is short so you have to be quick. Nothing is worse than realizing there is no more until next year. When the freezer is full of berries for winter breakfasts and desserts, I feel “rich.”

Berries are literally the best kind of “fast food.”

There’s no peeling or pitting; just rinse and they’re ready to go. Eat as much as you want. Well, almost! They are easy to freeze. Just rinse and trim off the stem end (for strawberries). I allow them to drain for a while because water left on the berry develops into frost which alters the flavor somewhat. Sometimes I even use my blow dryer on them before freezing.

Blueberries, if grown organically, are best frozen without even washing to avoid that frost problem, but if small children are helping themselves it’s probably not a great idea as they won’t wash them. Freezing berries on a cookie sheet in one layer and then transferring to a plastic freezer bag allows for a handful at time access. Commercial strawberries are heavily sprayed so it is one fruit that you are better off buying organic.

Berries are, of course, best when just eaten simply or on your morning cereal, but if you want to make a special dessert, this chocolate custard is quite elegant when served in pretty glass bowls.

It’s easy to prepare but does take several hours to firm up in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Custard with Raspberry or Strawberry Sauce

Five ounces semisweet chocolate

One and half cups milk (reserve 1/4 cup)

Two tablespoons leftover strong coffee

Two teaspoons rum

One teaspoon vanilla

One quarter cup sugar

One tablespoon corn starch

One and half cups fresh raspberries or strawberries

Sugar or honey to taste

Break or cut the chocolate pieces into small chunks and place in the blender. Process a couple times to break up into still smaller pieces. Leave chocolate in the blender for later.

Pour one and a quarter cups of the milk, coffee, rum, vanilla, and sugar into a medium-size saucepan. Add the cornstarch to the remaining 1/4 cup of milk. Using medium low heat and stirring continuously; slowly add the cornstarch and milk to the mixture. Bring the milk to a boil; continuing to stir so as not to allow the milk to scorch. Simmer gently for 2-3 minutes.

When the milk has finished cooking, pour it into the blender, cover, and let stand about 1 minute. Process until the mixture becomes smooth.

Pour the chocolate custard into a 10-inch deep dish pie pan or other shallow pan. Refrigerate until set.

Add the raspberries or strawberries and sugar/honey, if desired, to a small saucepan. Mash with a potato masher and simmer until sauce is warmed and slightly thickened. Serve chocolate custard in a small bowl and spoon the sauce over it. Garnish with a fresh berry. Makes 6 servings.

Patti Bess is a freelance writer and cookbook author from Grass Valley. For questions or comments, she can be reached at

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