Berry Marvelous

Warmer temperatures mean warm-weather crops -- and major produce scores at local farm markets.

Making a debut appearance at Arlington Courthouse market this Saturday (8 a.m. - noon) were members of the squash family -- yellow, zucchini and the adorable pattypan -- and dare I say it, an inaugural bunch of peaches. The cast included cucumbers, onions of all colors, sweet (and sour) cherries, herbs galore and early-bird garlic bulbs.

Blackberries and raspberries from Westmoreland Berry Fam in Oak Grove, Va. (Kim O'Donnel)

But the main attraction, at least based on the long, movie theater-esque lines, were the berries! The stand at Westmoreland Berry Farm, of Oak Grove, Va., was bursting with color, showcasing six, yes six, different kinds of berries. There they were -- blueberries, blackberries, red and black raspberries, strawberries and tayberries (a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry) in all their glory, and it looked like everyone in Arlington was queueing up for a taste of the action.

At first glance, I thought, "Nah, I'll wait. The line will thin out. " Not a chance; these berry beauties were capturing everyone's attention. Ultimately, I joined the masses, 25 eager mouths in front of me, and more following our lead. Although perplexed by the notion of waiting in line (in the hot sun) for at least 10 minutes even before reaching the fruit, I smiled too, as a witness to the enormous enthusiasm for local and seasonal fruit. A much more pleasant line than at the gasoline pump, don't you think?

Two pints (mix and match) for $9 was the going rate, and I chose raspberries and blackberries. As much as I love these sweet-tarts, I tend to be disappointed, as quality can be inconsistent and often too sour for my palate. Having dutifully prepared myself for a gustatory letdown, I decided to pull out the berries from the fridge last night. Into a bowl they went -- no sugar, no garnish, no ice cream - just me and them berries.

One bite in, I realized I had probably just eaten the best blackberry of my life. Sweet, brambly, even jammy. As I continued working my way through the bowl, I remembered the words of a curious onlooker of the long line at the berry stand. "Is the fruit that good?" he asked, rhetorically.

Oh yeah. The fruit's that good. And I'll gladly stand in line again.

Westmoreland Berry Farm also sells its fruit at the Mt. Vernon market in Fairfax (Tuesdays, 8-noon ) and in McLean (Fridays, 8:30-12:30). Go here for market details

For a complete list of area farm markets, consult the Food Section's annual guide.

P.S. Nutritional notes
: Berries are known as great sources of Vitamin C and fiber, but the raspberry in particular, is a whopper in the cancer-fighting department. Raspberries are rich in a compound called ellagic acid, which has shown to be powerful armor against cancer cells as well as preventing carcinogens from binding to DNA.

This tidbit comes from a new book on my shelf -- "The Organic Cook's Bible" by Jeff Cox.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 19, 2006; 9:22 AM ET Farmers Markets , Seasonal Produce
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Kim! I was at the Arlington Courthouse farmer's market on Saturday, too, and I also waited in line for berries. I missed the blueberries, but bought blackberries, raspberries (red and black), and sour cherries. The berries were made into a tart (sweet crust, semi-sweet chocolate melted and painted on the bottom, sweetened mascapone cheese with touch of vanilla as the filling, and the fresh berries arranged in concentric circles on the top) as my contribution for dinner at a friend's house that night. Needless to say, the tart was a big hit. The cherries are pitted and in the freezer for a future pie. I still have most of the black raspberries left over, and I'm debating between freezing those for a future cobbler or serving those tonight as a shortcake with buttermilk biscuits and whipped cream. I just love this time of year!

Posted by: I was there, too! | June 19, 2006 11:09 AM

great, now the line's going to be even longer this weekend!

Posted by: gee thanks | June 19, 2006 12:53 PM

Last night for dessert we had a strawberry rhubarb crisp with a cornmeal topping. The fruit was seasoned with cloves and it was the perfect end to a summer day.

Posted by: Kathryn | June 19, 2006 4:09 PM

There's nothing like farm fresh berries and we went straight to the source on Saturday. Larriland Farm was a great find (selected from Post's pick-your-own article). Pickin's were great and we had fresh, sweet strawberry margaritas that evening. Strawberry shortcake capped the weekend's fruitfest. The raspberries were still ripening, but we picked about a pint. Bought some tasty shelled peas and fresh sour cherries too. Yum.

Posted by: jo | June 20, 2006 1:46 PM

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