Food

Berrying in the Far Northern Catskills

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A brief bout of picking yields over four quarts of berries.

July is peak berry season in the valley of Schoharie Creek, which runs north from Great Gorge to the town of Schoharie, New York, a distance of about 20 miles. As the rocky creek meanders and burbles through the valley between two undulating ridges, it is flanked by rich agricultural tableland, and some of the prettiest produce stands in the state are planted along the road.

Berry pickers nearly eclipsed by blueberry bushes, under the rocky outcropping called Vroman’s Nose

The first tomatoes are starting to come in, but mainly because they were started in greenhouses by some of the more sophisticated farming operations. At one stand, we spot fairy-tale eggplants (a small, elongated, lavender variety) and cauliflowers as big as punch bowls. Berries of one sort or another are ripe during all of July and August, and this weekend, the summer raspberries and bush blueberries were ripe, with yellow raspberries just starting to come in.

A berrying pal and I attacked the blueberry bushes at Bohringer’s Fruit Farm in Fultonham, New York. The bushes are situated just below the stone outcropping and cliffs known as Vroman’s Nose, making for some spectacular picking, scenery-wise. We each picked a quart of blueberries. They tend to be smaller, sweeter, and covered with a thicker white blush than the ones found in the Union Square Greenmarket, which come mainly from Jersey. Put on ice cream or in buttermilk pancakes, these small sweet blueberries are unrivaled.

Half pint down, half pint to go

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These splendid specimens are destined to be made into jam later in the day.

Next we moved over to the raspberry bushes, in parallel rows north of the blueberry patch. Raspberry picking is more work than blueberry picking, because of the tiny thorns along the stems, and because you have to reach lower and push more foliage out of the way. It’s easier to spot ripe berries, because they have an almost purplish cast, and the raspberry picking goes faster because the berries are bigger. A gentle tug on a berry tells you if it’s ripe — it will come off right in your hand. Ones that don’t come off easily are generally not ripe enough. Nevertheless, for some applications, like jam making, a tarter berry may be more desirable.

We picked a quart each of raspberries in the hot July sun as the temperature topped out at 89 degrees. (It was the day after it was 104 degrees in the city.) It took us 45 minutes, and we emerged from the fields drenched in sweat. Proceeding to the berry sale barn and weigh station, we were charged $15 for four quarts of berries, at $2.50 per pound. A similar quantity of berries, not quite as fresh or sweet, would have set us back over $60 at the Union Square Greenmarket.

It takes a different set of skills to pick raspberries than it does to pick blueberries.

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Freshly picked raspberries taste great on vanilla soft-serve — of which the Catskills have plenty.

We repaired to the ice cream stand in Great Gorge and gorged ourselves on fresh berries and vanilla soft-serve. The next day we made jam out of the rest of the raspberries, and used the blueberries in a batch of buttermilk pancakes. Berries don’t get any tastier than this.

Blueberry pancakes, soon to be sluiced with the local maple syrup

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