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Lady sings the blues

Kerplink! Kerplank! Kerplunk! was the sound the blueberries made as they dropped into little Sal’s bucket in Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book, “Blueberries for Sal.”

Those words bounced around in my brain as I drove through Penn Valley toward the Lazy Valley Blueberry Ranch.

Memories of picking berries when my children were small came rushing back to me. We never missed a year at the U-Pick farm on McKittrick Ranch Road. There was always lots of laughter and blueberry stained faces. Often, after picking, we would look for a shady spot to park the car (and the berries) at the river for a quick dip; then home for ice cream piled high with berries.



I drove into Lazy Valley Ranch and finally found Jeannie Gleason, Where? In the blueberry fields.

Jeannie’s in-laws bought this 500-acre farm in 1934. For many years, Jeannie and her husband, Shannon, traveled when he was a minister. About ten years ago they returned to the farm to take over from his parents.




This is their eighth year selling blueberries, and the lady definitely sings the blues – not the real blues, but the praises of the little blue berry. “My friends often feel sorry for me as I work so hard here on the farm, but I love being outside. This is paradise,” she commented.

Last year Jeannie rolled her ATV, which she uses to get around on, and broke her arm.

“Blueberries can do very well in our climate zone,” Jeannie continued. “It’s really a matter of choosing the right variety for the right elevation. We use no pesticides or insecticides.” The biggest problem with berries is gophers; the plants themselves are fairly disease resistant. Blueberries are, however, particular about certain things. They need a soil that is moderately acidic (about 5.2) and definitely like regular overhead watering. Netting the patch is an exorbitant expense so the Gleasons share berries with the birds-losing maybe 10% of the crop each year. As we walked around talking, there was a background humming like a well tuned engine. Usually the ranch relies on wild bees for pollinating, but this year a local rancher brought in his hives. They were located across a ravine and creek, but definitely still audible.

From their house on a hill, the Gleasons enjoy an expansive view of the valley. In addition to berries Shannon Gleason raises about eighty head of cattle every year and grows hay. Boarding horses is another way that they utilize the land. Most of the necessities for growing berries are already available right on their property. In the 1930’s Shannon’s parents contracted with a local logging company. The company hauled thousands of tons of left over wood chips to store on their back acreage. Fifty years later these wood chips have decomposed and provide excellent mulch. Their cattle provide most of the organic fertilizer they need.

Blueberries are one of the crown jewels of summer. They contain more antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable. Somewhat pricey, the tremendous “nutritional bang for the buck” makes them a great investment. Blueberries are the easiest fruit to process for freezing. There’s no hulling, pitting or stems to remove; so a good washing and drying off and they are ready to throw into freezer bags. “It’s important that berries are dry before freezing,” Jeanie said. A U-pick farm is a great way to get enough for a good splurge as well as freezing for next winter.

Blueberry season depends entirely on how the weather progresses from spring into summer. Most years the berries are ready by the tenth of June and are often finished by mid July. This year, because of the late frost, they may have a smaller crop. The Gleasons monitor the number of pickers in the fields so call ahead and bring a hat. They can be reached at: 432-2234.

Patti Bess is a freelance writer and cookbook author from Grass Valley. She is also the host of What’s Cookin’ on KVMR-FM. For questions or comments you can reach her at pbess@jps.net

Blueberry cake

This all American classic cake is fantastic as a breakfast sweet or for dessert.

2 1/2 cups all purpose or whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind

2 large eggs

1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Blueberry filling

Stir together two tablespoons sugar, one and a quarter cups blueberries and a half cup walnuts (chopped medium fine).

Topping

Stir together one tablespoon sugar and three quarters teaspoon ground cinnamon.

Stir together flour, baking powder and soda in the large bowl.

At medium speed of electric mixer, thoroughly beat together butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon rind. Beat in eggs one at a time, then sour cream. At low speed gradually beat in flour mixture until blended.

Turn about one third of the batter into a greased and floured 9-inch tube pan. Sprinkle with half the Blueberry filling.

Repeat layers. Spread with remaining batter. Sprinkle with topping.

Bake on the rack below center, in a preheated 350-degree oven until a cake tester comes out free of batter – about 50 minutes. Loosen the edges and around the tube. Turn out on a rack and cool completely. Invert on a cake platter.


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