Tag Archives | raspberries

Thoughts on Potlucks + Baby Arugula and Oregon Berry Salad

baby arugula and berries

This post is sponsored by the folks at the Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission. Nobody grows berries like Oregon does!

All week now, I’ve had potlucks on the brain. It’s in part because I’ve been reading potluck-centric comments all week on that The Homemade Kitchen giveaway (have you entered yet?). However, it’s also because with fall-like weather finally here, it just feels like the time to make a shareable dish, and gather with friends to eat.

Stahlbush Island Farms berries

Whenever I plan a dish to bring for a potluck, there are a few things I keep in mind. First in my mind is to make something flexible, that could make up the bulk of a meal (if offerings are sparse) but that can also be comfortably eaten alongside a wide array of other items. To me, that means that I want to make something that includes both a vegetable and a protein, but that isn’t too strongly flavored.

Oregon berries

I also want to plan something that can travel well, needs minimal assembly, holds up well at room temperature, doesn’t take up too much space on the table, and can be eaten with a fork (there’s also a subset of things I consider when taking food allergies into account).

What this typically means is that I often opt for either sturdy salads, a whole grain bake, or if I’m rushed for time, a multigrain baguette, a log of goat cheese, and a jar of jam or chutney (what good is a homemade pantry if you don’t use it?).

berries to defrost

When it comes to building a salad to take to a potluck, I have a steadfast formula. First, I pick a tasty green base (young kale, baby arugula, chopped romaine hearts, or a combination of all three). Then I choose something sweet (berries, apple slices, slivers of pear, or roasted beets are some favorites).

Finally, I choose a protein source (cheese, nuts, tofu, or chicken), something creamy (cheese or avocado, mostly), something crunchy (slivered onions, nuts or seeds, cucumbers, or carrots) and a dressing (homemade vinaigrettes made with fruit shrubs are the best).

defrosted berries

This time of year, most of us think that we have to wave goodbye to berries on our salads, but thanks to the clever folks at the Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission, I’ve learned a trick for defrosting frozen berries that keeps them whole and perfect for tossing into salads.

Essentially, you spread the berries out on a lined plate (paper towel or clean kitchen rag), and the use the defrost setting on your microwave in short spurts, until the berries lose their frostiness. It’s impressively effective and the berries keep their shape beautifully.

tossed berry salad

I wasn’t on top of things enough this summer to freeze local berries, but have been employing this microwave trick to prep frozen Stahlbush Island Farms berries for my salads. As a former Oregonian, I love knowing that I’m eating berries from my beloved home state.

The salad you see above included baby arugula, slivered almonds, sliced shallots, raspberries and Marionberries, crumbled feta, and a dressing of blueberry shrub, olive oil, salt, and pepper. While it was big enough to take to a potluck, this was one I didn’t share. I ate the whole thing for lunch instead.

For more information about Oregon raspberries and blackberries, look for the commission on Facebook, Twitter, or by searching the hashtag #ORberries.

Disclosure: The Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission is the sponsor of this post. They provided the berries, the OXO salad dressing shaker, and covered ingredient costs. All my opinions are my own and I’m honored to shine a spotlight on the berries grown in Oregon. 

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A Visit to Driscoll’s Berries

Driscoll's berries

Last month, I went on a really great (if far too brief) trip to California. I’ve been intending to write about it since returning home, but there’s been a cavalcade of events (a book deadline, a visit from my sister’s family, the departure of my intern, a week-long vacation, the return of canning classes, and 34th birthday celebration).

You see, my sojourn in Northern CA was a gathering of bloggers, hosted by Driscoll’s. We were invited to learn more about how Driscoll’s develops, grows, packages, and sells their strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries.

raspberry plants

Going into the trip, I knew very little about the ins and outs of berry growing beyond the fact that I liked to visit my local farms during the season and pick their fruit. Thanks to Driscoll’s and this trip (which was essentially a one-day crash course on the ins and outs of berry farming), I have a far deeper understanding of breeding, developing, growing, marketing, and shipping processes required to bring that clamshell of berries to my local market.

greenhouse

When you buy a box of berries at the grocery store, know that your fruit was at least five to seven years in the making. You see, Driscoll’s works with number of farmers to grow the berries. All those growers start with seedlings that Driscoll’s breeds, propagates and raises, to ensure that the berries they sell meet their very high standards of texture and flavor.

raspberry canes

It takes five years of growing before a seedling is ready to be shipping to the grower (one plant is raised into 100, those 100 are grown into 5,000, those 5,000 become 200,000 and so on. For five years). Before that, there were many seasons of growing, tasting, and testing before a variety was selected to be propagated. It definitely not a matter of picking up some seeds and planting a field.

rows

We spent much of our time on the trip talking about strawberries, as those were the berries that were currently in season in Watsonville while we were there (this was in early April). We visited the test fields where Driscoll’s develops their new varieties and got to pick and taste berries directly from the ground (it was amazing).

cluster of berries

One thing that surprised me to learn while we were in the fields was that each strawberry cultivar has a relatively short lifespan. That’s because they’re constantly tweaking the plants in order to make them just a bit more delicious (all this work is basic breeding science. They don’t engage in any genetic engineering).

tee-shirt motto

One thing I heard over and over again during the time I spent with the Driscoll’s folks was the importance of delight (in fact, Driscoll’s mission statement starts with, “Our Mission is to continually delight our Berry Consumers…”).

At first, I was a little taken aback, because I’d never before been exposed to a company that is so clear about putting pleasure and flavor ahead of profits. But truly, Driscoll’s does (they made it very clear that if berries are subpar, they are not sold).

berry tour boots

One thing I found particularly interesting was the fact that strawberries are only touched once before we bring them home to our kitchens. They are packed into the clamshells in the fields by the pickers, so the handling is incredibly minimal. The growers are all independent, but do work closely with Driscoll’s, to ensure that standards are being met in regards to cleanliness, ripeness, and general berry quality.

berry tracking code

Here’s another thing I learned while on this trip. You can actually track exactly where your berries are coming from. All clamshells are labeled with code stickers and if you go to mydriscolls.com, you can punch in that code, see a picture of the farmer who grew your berries and learn where the farm is located. I’ve been doing it with every box of berries I bought since returning from this trip.

Driscoll's berries

I’ve long been someone who believes that the most important thing to do is to support your local farmers (and depending on where you live, there’s a good chance that the Driscoll’s berries in your market are local). And during the summer months, I buy mountains of fruit from the farmers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

However, being in the recipe writing business means that I often need berries in January. Having been on this trip, I feel so much better about buying off-season berries from Driscoll’s, because I know they’re working hard to produce the best, most flavorful and safest berries around.

Many thanks to Driscoll’s for inviting me to learn more about their berries and for giving me the opportunity to meet a collection of other fabulous bloggers and writers.

Disclosure: This trip to California was paid for by Driscoll’s. However, my opinions are entirely my own.
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