Don't let the berry season go by without buying some of these black beauties at the Betty's Berries stand at the Saturday morning S.F. Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market. Phil Freeman pictured here is the son-in-law Bill & Betty Geryk, the owners of Betty's Berries Farm. He was on hand at the Market on May 18th to officially launch the berry season, which lasts only 6 weeks! During this short season, Betty's Berries will offer only blackberries and boysenberries, but in prolific profusion. The blackberries are just coming in and as they begin to taper off, the boysenberries started coming in the first week of June. They are t-e-r-r-i-f-i-c!
Blackberries are from the rose family and were found only in the wild until 1850's when home gardeners began to grow them in their gardens. There are 24 known varieties of blackberry, but only 3 are grown commercially today:
|Sylvan||A relatively new variety of blackberry developed in Australia and noted for its mild, sweet flavor, deep maroon-black color when fully ripe and melt-in-your-mouth texture. It's a vigorous grower and has a high yield. The Sylvan's are thriving at Betty's Berries Farm.|
|Marion||This type of blackberry is grown mostly in Oregon. It's a little less sweet and generally has a firmer texture. It doesn't do well in California.|
|Ollalie||The name makes you think this is a different type of berry, but it's actually a blackberry. Ollalie is the varietal name, equivalent to Sylvan and Marion.|
|Chactow Black||This is a "dark horse" variety of blackberry because it hasn't been grown successfully on a commercial basis yet. The Geryk's planted a few experimental bushes and hope to bring some of these berries to market next year. But it's too early to predict whether this variety will produce enough berries to sell.|
The Boysenberry Controversy
There's a controversy over where the boysenberry came from. Most sources say that is a variety of blackberry that was improved by Dr. Boysen, who did horticultural research in California in the 1920's and 1930's. Other sources say it's a berry of unknown origin that Dr.Boysen discovered and improved.
Reading the Berries
Until I got a quick lesson on how to tell the difference between blackberries, boysenberries and ollalie berries, I couldn't tell the difference. To the untrained eye, they look all alike. But after a brief introduction from Phil, you can quickly become an expert:
Blackberries: 3/4" long and shaped like a pine cone.
Boysenberries: twice the size of a marble and are round in shape.
The Berry Business
Bill Geryk was a commercial grower of cotton, eggplant, grapes for raisins and chile peppers. As he was preparing to semi-retire from that business, he saw the market for these crops become over saturated so he didn't want to continue in that field in his semi-retirement. He looked for other crops that liked the rich sandy soils around Fresno and discovered that bush berries like the same type of soil. Five years ago, he started in the berry business by planting 5 acres of Marion and Sylvan blackberries. The Sylvans did so much better than the Marions, he ripped out the Marions and replaced them with Sylvans. In the last 5 years, he's expanded to 20 acres of berries (5 acres of blackberries and 15 acres of boysenberries)-- enough to keep him busy in his semi-retirement.
His original plan was to sell the berries for juicing, but the Sylvan blackberry and the boysenberries turned out to be so luscious, he decided to sell directly to customers at farmers' markets. He's mainly at the Ferry Plaza Market on Saturday and occasionally at a few other markets.
Once you taste one of these black jewels, you won't be able to resist buying at least 3 packs (or more). On the first day of the season, Phil was selling 3 packs for an irresistible price of $5.00. The berries are so ripe and fragile you'll have to use them within 2 days of purchase. They're high in natural pectin and make wonderful jams!
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