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The time is ripe for berry-picking

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Marc Dixon, chef and owner of Bistro Blanc in Dayton, gets his berries from a nearby farm. This year's strawberries, he said, were "hands down, the best strawberries of my life. They were like strawberry candy."

The strawberry season is just about over in Maryland, and the raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are coming in. This year, thanks to a nearly frost-free April and a relatively dry, mild spring, both wild and cultivated berries will likely be abundant and delicious, said Dave Myers, senior agent with the University of Maryland extension.

The first of the season's black raspberries are appearing on the menu at Bistro Blanc, and "they're just phenomenal," Dixon said. "They're slightly tart, and they just have this wonderful perfume."

Last Saturday was the first day for pick-your-own raspberries, black raspberries and blueberries at Larilland Farm in Woodbine. Though strawberry season was cut short by a heat wave that literally cooked the berries in the fields, the coming crops so far are plentiful, said Margaret Martin, market manager at the farm.

Black raspberries, which are tarter than the red ones, have a short season — about two weeks. Later in the summer, there will be mild-flavored yellow raspberries, purple raspberries that are a combination of black and red raspberries, and thornless blackberries.

Bistro Blanc's berries come from Jim Sanborn, who grows strawberries, raspberries and blackberries on the Dayton farm where he lives with his wife, Emilie. Sanborn, who said he is "almost 80," sells the fruit to wholesalers, Bistro Blanc and to any visitors who want them.

Sanborn grows a medium-size strawberry variety called Early Glow, which grows well in this region and is known for its sweet flavor. He also grows blueberries and red and black raspberries, and expects his first blackberry crop this year. "We're doing black raspberries now, and we've just got tons of them," he said.

Myers said Maryland is blessed with an unusually long berry-growing season, starting with the first strawberries in April and ending almost at Thanksgiving, when fall-bearing raspberry plants give up their last fruit. Right now, he said, "the countryside is just loaded with" wild blueberries and raspberries.

Over at Catoctin Mountain Orchard, in Thurmont, market manager Patricia Black said black raspberries will be ready for picking this week and blueberries will be ready at the end of June. Blackberries will be sold starting in early July.

Black said one of her favorite black raspberry recipes is hardly a recipe at all. "Take a pint of black raspberries, a banana and a can of pineapple tidbits, and just mix that together with a little bit of sugar," she said. "That's a very easy dessert.

"My mom made it for us all the time when we were growing up," she said. "We just called it raspberry, pineapple and banana."

Black raspberry peach cobbler

For filling:

Zest & juice of 1 lemon

1/2 pound black raspberries

1/2 pound ripe peaches

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

For topping:

5 ounces all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 ounces cold butter, diced

1 large egg

3 ounces heavy whipping cream

For the filling: Rinse and pat dry the berries and peaches. Dice the peaches roughly 1/4 inch. Gently mix berries and peaches in bowl with rest of filling ingredients. Prepare baking dish by buttering base and sides. Poor filling mixture into baking dish and set aside.

For the topping: In a food processor, pulse all dry ingredients to mix. Add chilled diced butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Combine egg and heavy cream in separate bowl and whisk to mix. Add to dry mixture and pulse until just incorporated. Allow to rest for 10 minutes in refrigerator.

If you don't have a food processor, add dry ingredients in large mixing bowl and mix with a fork. Add half the chilled diced butter and mix with hands by rubbing the butter with dry mixture between both hands. Once the butter begins to break down, add the remaining half of butter and continue rubbing between hands until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

In separate bowl, combine egg and heavy cream and whisk to mix. Add to dry mixture and with a wooden spoon stir until just incorporated. Allow to rest for 10 minutes in refrigerator.

After allowing topping dough to rest, break small chunks and ball in the palm of your hands. Smash down the ball to make a "disk" about 1/4-inch thick and 21/2 inches in diameter. Place dough on top of filling and repeat until pan is covered with dough. Reserve extra dough, if any, for another day.

Bake cobbler at 350 degrees until filling starts to bubble around the edges and the topping is golden brown, around 20 minutes. (Times will vary depending on types of baking dish used and oven.)

Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes and serve with your favorite ice cream.

Courtesy of Marc Dixon of Bistro Blanc, who suggests vanilla bean ice cream as an accompaniment.

If you go

A sampling of area pick-your-own berry farms:

Larriland Farm, 2415 Woodbine Road, Woodbine, 410-442-260, http://www.pickyourown.com. In season now are black raspberries, red raspberries and blueberries. The farm also has pick-your-own strawberries, blackberries, yellow raspberries and purple raspberries.

Catoctin Mountain Orchard, 15036 N. Franklinville Road, Thurmont, 301-271-2737, http://www.catoctinmountainorchard.com. Black raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are grown and sold here.

Baugher's Farm Orchard Market, 1236 Baugher Road, Westminster, 410-848-5541, http://www.baughers.com. Pick-your-own strawberries.

Hybridoma Organic Fruit Farm, 13734 Baldwin Mill Road, Baldwin, 443-902-0370, http://www.hybridomafarm.com/description. Pick-your-own blueberries and raspberries.

Mingodale Farm, 17201 Masemore Road, Parkton, 410-357-0403, http://www.mingodalefarm.com. Nothing to pick right now, but blackberries will be ready about the third week in July, and raspberries are expected in August.

For a list of more area farms, see pickyourown.org/MD.htm

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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